DC United's 2010 effectively ended last night. United fell to Columbus in the semifinals of the US Open Cup in front of 3400 fans at RFK stadium, and while the organization is none too happy with the quality of the referee for the match, their grousing won't change anything. United will now simply finish out their MLS schedule while understandably looking ahead to 2011.
There are questions galore for United. While they'd likely prefer to pretend 2010 never happened and simply move on, there are serious issues, both on and off the field, the must be addressed moving forward.
Team legend Ben Olsen took over for the underwhelming Curt Onalfo after the latter failed to steer the team in a positive direction. Olsen's status with the club may earn him a shot at the permanent gig next year, or the club could look for a more qualified replacement. With a recent track record of poor signings, however, it might not matter who's leading the team next year; United's front office has missed on so many players that the job is now a poisoned chalice. The mystique of United has faded, and so it seems inevitable that the next coach (if Olsen does not retain the job) will be hired from within or have strong ties to DC.
Olsen, if he wants the job next year, now has eight games to bolster his resume.
*Update* - Apparently Olsen is not a candidate for the job in 2011 per Kevin Payne, though these things are never, ever, set in stone.
We can expect serious turnover at United, simply because the team has been so bad. But the decision makers have failed, repeatedly, to find effective players. United has been one of the most active MLS clubs in South America for some time, choosing to scour Latin countries for talent. Though the talent is surely there to be found, the club has missed on multiple players over multiple years and with no sign of improvement. Throw in disappointing DP Branko Boscovic and the mediocrity of Troy Perkins, and little United has done in terms of player acquisition has gone right. Will they front office come to some kind of realization and change their strategy? Or will the few successes they've had (getting Chris Pontius in the draft, bringing in Andy Najar from the academy) gloss over a disturbing pattern?
Owner Will Chang must be considering changes, not an easy thing considering the history names like Kevin Payne and Dave Kasper have with the club.
Again, for the umpteenth consecutive year, the stadium uncertainty is United's biggest off-field problem. There's essentially no news worth mentioning, and while the possibility of a new DC mayor might give them a glimmer of hope, there's no indication the new guy will be any more open to working with United than the old one. If United is simply grasping at straws, has nothing in the works in an adjacent locality, and therefore has no assurances to provide its fan base, we can only expect their season ticket sales to drop. The additional problem of assembling a competitive team after 2010's disaster will only make those tickets a tougher sell. The United fan bas is loyal and passionate, but it's hard to imagine they'll willingly jump on board a ship that could shortly be sailing for different harbors.
There's real worry that United isn't long for DC. If nothing materializes in 2012, things may finally come to a head.
Beyond the encouraging play of a few young player, chiefly Andy Najar, there hasn't been much good in United's 2010. As the club plays out the string, it will be interesting to see what tack they take, who plays and who doesn't, and how intent they are on playing spoiler in the MLS playoff race.
Building towards 2011 might as well start now.