30 April 2007

Patience, Within Limits (or, Now is NOT the Time to Fire Tom Soehn)

Given the disappointing start to the season, it's only natural that fans start to vent. Hell, I feel it to, so while I don't agree with the Fire Soehn crowd, I can understand the feelings. Expectations were high, results have been preposterous. When Dave Lifton is comparing things to 2000 (instead of 1996) you know the mood is sour out there. As Bob Dylan says, it doesn't take a weatherman to know Air Quality Index is poor.

Still, we pride ourselves on a certain degree of rationality (or perhaps naivety), so let me explain where I'm at right now.

There comes a time when one should fire a coach. Holding on to a poor coach for too long can be a disastrous move. We've seen this in our own history, and we see it elsewhere in the league right now. Still, there is such a thing, even in MLS, as getting rid of a coach prematurely. To help make up my mind, I've put together a checklist of criteria I use when evaluating if a coach should go. Here are the key points, and then I will apply them to our situation:

  1. Has the coach permanently lost the team? A team that just doesn't put stock into their coach means you either change the team, or change the coach. One of those is feasible.
  2. Is the coach consistently outsmarted? Even if the coach has the ear of the team, it makes little difference if what he tells them to do will always be ineffective from week to week.
  3. Is the coach adapting and improving when things are bad? There's a time to stay the course, but even if you know what you want to do, and it isn't showing up on the pitch, you need to adapt to get results. The line between persistent and obtuse can be thing.
  4. Is the team performing better or worse as time goes on? Changes made in training or personnel must show up in better results on the field, or they are useless.
  5. Is there a better option out there? If you're going to change the coach, you better have a strategy for what comes next.
  6. Are there mitigating circumstances, such as injuries, that might mean we're not seeing a true reflection of the performance of the team? Look, sometimes you're just unlucky, and it is stupid to make a huge change just because the breaks aren't going your way.
  7. Do we really have an accurate picture of how the team is performing? Similar to #6 above,but more of a caution about the danger of small sample sizes.
Based on the answers to the questions above, I would then summarize with the big question: Do you believe it is unlikely that this team will perform at an acceptable level in the future?

Applying these criteria to Tom Soehn, let's see what we come up with. I don't think Soehn has lost the team. The team is frustrated, but more with themselves that with Soehn from what I can (imperfectly) tell. Yes, they are underperforming to their talent level. But sometimes that's the fault of the manager, and sometimes it is the players. Right now I lean toward the majority (but not all) of the problems being player performance related, and not on the manager.

Second, he has been out-coached in two of his games so far. Coloardo and Kansas City both clearly gameplanned better than United. From what I saw in Columbus, I don't think Sigi outcoached Soehn, but I can hardly argue the opposite either. I also think Soehn gameplanned Olimpia and Chivas fairly well. That makes four decent coaching performances, two poor ones, and one draw. Is it worrisome that Onalfo and Clavijo both outsmarted United? Yes, but I don't think we're at the point where we can say that Soehn is consistently outcoached by his peers. It has happened, but three regular season games does not make me convinced it is a pattern. The next four to six games could change my mind on that.

Soehn is adapting, and while I don't think it is definitive it looks as though he's making small tactical changes. The big question is whether he is adapting enough to put the team in a chance to succeed. The calls for a 4-4-2 argue that the team would be better positioned and more apt to success if he had more in the back, but the big problem is less bad marking and more poor distribution. If you reorganize your formation, is it likely that this will suddenly get better, or will the unfamiliar positioning make things worse? I honestly feel that for the next few weeks, we're stuck in the 3-5-2. Certainly a problem, and if fault can be made it is that the 3-5-2 has shown cracks for most of a year now. Not adapting sooner is a problem, but I'm not sure that the instant switch is the answer. Okay, that was weak, let me state it stronger: Switching to a 4-4-2 would be disastrous for this team (Kinney may well disagree based on his excellent First Impressions post from Saturday night).

Is the team performing better or worse? I'd say, overall, worse than when we started the season, but we're comparing apples and oranges and I'd need a few more games to get a real sense.

There are no good options out there, unless you want to bring Rongren in from the Color commentary position. So, um, no then. Similarly, there are no mitigating circumstances. The only injury of note has been Clyde Simms, and while Carroll is getting heat, one injury is not enough for me to say the team is in trouble, even if it were to Gomez or Moreno. You have to be able to lose one player and still succeed, even a key player, because of the way in which this league works.

Finally, do we really have a good picture? Probably not, but we're certainly on the way. Three more games would be enough to truly evaluate these questions, but it would take at least six league games to make a decision. I honestly feel like all my answers are preliminary and still require more evidence. Firing Soehn now would be premature, and potentially a complete catastrophe. Yes, it looks bad. I admit that. Do I understand the Fire Soehn calls? Sure, I can't fault people for that feeling. I just think that we're hurting as fans, and we want to lash out at something, and the first year head coach is an inviting target. Still, I don't think the factual case supports the reaction. Even if I change my mind in three games, I don't think I'll regret waiting. For now... Patience.

Oh, and by the way, at least one blog thought it might start off poorly for us... check out our "Tom Soehn" headlines from back in the day... Now we just need the turnaround to happen (and waiting until July as we did may be waiting too long)

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At 30 April, 2007 12:01, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd say #5 is the key here. If there was another clear choice out there that could come in and make improvements with This set of players then I'd be jumping on the wagon. Unfortunately, there is not.
However, I do think his has a LOT of responsibility for how this team is performing. If it turns around I'll give credit, but right now I see him as being responsible for whether he can get the players to perform up to at least their regular standard, even if they don't win. When more than half of the player play much worse then they have in a long time then you have to look at the coach.

At 01 May, 2007 13:37, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think he's lost all six. as for is there someone better? It ain't hard to be better than 0-3. Seriously, if he does anything less than control the game Thursday (note I didn't say win), he should plain and simply be gone. That's a month to make adjustments and he will have made none.

At 02 May, 2007 12:39, Blogger stmatte said...

1. Yes if he ever had control of the team. Right now he is blaming all the players, instead of the team
2. By never changing tactics it takes about 2 minutes for a team to get thru our defense, I think a door knob can outsmart Soehn
3. The coach is just blaming the players at, he is not improving anything by switching out playetrs to left and right.
4. Every game seems to be worse after Soehn switched out players in second hal against the Crew he managed to completly dismantle whatever was left of our midfield.
5. Change out the coach and start playing a 4-4-2, we don't have the right players for 3-5-2. We should also pick up a a good defensive player.
6. Nope, just a bad coach.
7. This team is crippled by the coach they have the players.


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