16 April 2009

What We Do, We Do Rationally (We never ever go off half-cocked, not we!)

Or, "In Defense of Tom Soehn"

It is a general rule that I tend to give links and space to the pessimistic, the cynical, and the doubting. The worst thing you can be is the chump, the easy mark, the naive idealist. In many ways, this sort of behavior sets in at high school with its faux-jovial pep rallies, school spirit weeks, and armed robberies outside the old gym. How can someone not conclude that the entire concept is flawed in this environment, that only the airheads smile. No, much better to sing along to Bela Lugosi's Dead. Right?

Regardless, let's list the things that are going right this season, including with Tom Soehn. I have given, and will continue to give, space to the "Fire Soehn" crowd. Tom's got no goodwill carryover this year, and everything must be about his results. But his results are not uniformly bad. In fact, here's a list of the things going right:

  1. Rationing: We were an old, old team last year, and injuries were a natural outgrowth of United's reliance on veterans. Tom has regulated the starts of Ben Olsen (and regardless of the result, the impulse to give Ben a break is a good one) and Jaime Moreno, and regulated the minutes of all of the above as well as Christian Gomez and Fred. While we can bemoan the lack of Olsen's presence against Real Salt Lake, I'd rather him miss the occasional start if it improves the liklihood of us keeping him all season.
  2. Depth Management: We're not deep in the back, we haven't been in years, but Tom has recognized this and moved to deal with it. We seem to have at least three options and defensive midfield, so if we swap out a back for a CDM, that seems to be a logical move to improve the quality of the team we put out every week. Moving Olsen back to the middle also helps.
  3. We're Trying New Things: I consistently railed about Tom Soehn not trying out new ideas from week to week to see what best can happen, but United has shown an ability to vary its attack style (we've gone long, through the middle, and down the wing at various times) as well as its line-ups (Forwards have included Emilio, Moreno, Pontius, N'Sulu, and Doe this season). These are not moves of desperation, but of a coach tinkering, more comfortable in his style and trying to fine-tune. This should be applauded. Furthermore, Tom has identified what he sees as weaknesses, and tried to address them to the team. Not finding Gomez, not involving Pontius enough, these are both criticisms Soehn made after performances. These criticisms are related to overall strategy, not, for the most part, in selling out one player. To that effect, they are also self-criticisms, since Soehn is ultimately responsible for directing the players on how to interact as a team on the field.

The complaint about us looking for a draw remains valid. I still share the concern that Tom looks for one goal victories that he can lock down with the talent to do so. But even here, there is some indication that he's aware of the problem. His comments post RSL indicated that he wasn't happy with the passivity of United. It looks like he hasn't told Chris Pontius "Hey, look for a better shot" but instead wants the team to fire a little more.

So, after four games, I am not in the Fire Soehn camp, even if we all think that such a decision won't take place until the end of the season. If anything, I am a little more optimistic that United is not doomed, that Tom Soehn can find the right players, right tactics, and right strategy for the year.

Of course, I reserve the right to utterly change my mind after Friday night's match against New England.



At 16 April, 2009 16:16, Anonymous BDR said...

I wish we knew what the players thought of him.

My impression is that he'd be a jerk to work for, based on nothing but (a) the kind of player he was (b) his apprenticeship under Nowak and (c) his willingness - if not eagerness - to hang his players in the press for United's failures.

I *don't* think the players have quit on him, so that's in Soehn's favor, and I hope things don't go so wrong that we see them quit.

But you know what camp I'm in and why and how badly I want to be proved spectacularly wrong.

At 16 April, 2009 20:13, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to admit I am skeptical.

I agree that one thing he has tried to do since taking over is manage minutes and rotate players. It was the obvious fix after Nowak's departure but it has become indispensable given the added tournaments and games. Unfortunately, there was not much depth to exploit his first year and injuries wreaked havoc on the strategy the second. A good draft, the USL pickups and some other moves have helped to deepen the team while lowering the average age and not breaking the bank. Is that Soehn or Kasper - I don't know, but it is a sign of things heading in the right direction.

What sticks in my mind is why players like Boswell and Carrol looked so good under Nowak and so bad under Soehn and now look good again. Our defense initially had the same cast of characters and it fell apart. We ditched it, tried for a major upgrade and it fell apart. Now we're patching it up in bits and pieces. I get a sense that players are often lost or overwhelmed out there. Isn't that someting coaching should fix?

Still - I am hopeful.

At 16 April, 2009 23:14, Blogger jason said...

I think we're seeing a second stage of Sohen's Coaching. As I recall, United is his first Head Coaching job, that isn't to say I give him a bye for year one, but it does help to make clearer what was going on. He may have tried to use Nowak's style early on, and now he may be finding his own. (Not a for sure, but a thought)


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