Ben Olsen

Disappointment can’t overshadow season of improvement for D.C. United


One year ago, D.C. United were watching the MLS playoffs from home after finishing seven points out of the playoffs. Burdening with one of the worst defenses in Major League Soccer, Ben Olsen’s club was dragging to seventh in the East, a -3 goal difference unable to compensate for their 52 goals allowed. For the RFK faithful, it was another disappointing season and another year removed from the franchise’s glory days.

It’s a testament D.C.’s 2012 accomplishment that the dour mood that surrounded the franchise is now a memory. No more talk of fading legacies. No delicate thoughts of the Bruce Arena years. This season, Olsen kept D.C. in a playoff race since March. Thanks to a late season run to second in the East, La Barra Brava had reason to believe their team a contender.

And ultimately, that belief was rewarded. Though Houston’s 4-2 aggregate victory in the Eastern Conference final left little doubt who should represent the East in the MLS Cup Final, D.C.’s presence in the conversation spoke to all the improvements the team’s made since last year:

  • A year of health from Chris Pontius plus the addition of rookie Nick DeLeon helped D.C.’s attack take a step forward, the team’s 53 goals scored ranking fourth in MLS. A near-full season of Dwayne De Rosario helped;
  • Perry Kitchen, moved back into midfield for his second MLS season, provided cover for the back line;
  • Brandon McDonald and Dejan Jakovic helped the defense shave nine goals off 2011’s total;
  • As did improvement in goal from the still-improving Bill Hamid.

But as Houston made apparent over the last week, there’s only so much progress you can make in 12 months. Over the course of 180 minutes, D.C. United — playing essentially a 4-5-1 formation that helped protect a still vulnerable defense — was a better set up to take advantage of opponent mistakes than create opportunities of their own.

It’s a formula that’s rarely going to beat a Dominic Kinear-led team. Without De Rosario and Pontius (who only played 12 minutes in the series), United was left reliant on lapses like the one that led to Branko Boskovic’s second leg goal. There were never going to be enough. Without a threat up top or any push from their two-man shield, D.C. wasn’t going to keep up with a in-form Dynamo.

But in light of how far D.C.’s come in 2012, it was too much to ask them to keep pace. Houston was a finalist last year and have since added Boniek Garcia, Ricardo Clark, and Mac Kandji (while losing Geoff Cameron). They’re better positioned to claim 2012’s title than 2011’s. It would have been an amazing accomplishment if Olsen found a way past Kinnear’s team. That he didn’t shouldn’t diminish how far D.C.’s come.

If that’s doesn’t serve as a silver lining for United fans, consider the improvements the team’s likely to see next season. Bill Hamid will be a year older and, presumably, a year better. Same can be said for Andy Najar (suspended for the final series), Kitchen, and DeLeon. If they make the playoffs again in 2013, D.C. can expect better health from their two main goal scoring threats: Pontius and De Rosario. Ben Olsen, having proved himself one of the league’s promising young coaches, will build on this season’s experience.

Positives are always elusive in the minutes after a season’s extinguished, but when D.C. and their fans are ready to move on, they’ll be able to reflect on their most successful season since claiming 2007’s Supporters’ Shield.

And the 2013 season is only four months away.

ProSoccerTalk will keep up the discussion of the chase for MLS Cup through the Dec. 1 final.

Sunderland confirm resignation of manager Dick Advocaat

SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 03:  Dick Advocaat manager of Sunderland looks on prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Sunderland and West Ham United at the Stadium of Light in Sunderland, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Steve Welsh/Getty Images)
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With rumors swirling of his resignation, Sunderland have confirmed this morning that Dick Advocaat has left his post as Sunderland manager with zero financial compensation despite the protests of the chairman.

Advocaat came on in March as an emergency signing, successfully saving Sunderland from relegation with a solid run of form to finish the season. The 68-year-old Dutchman pondered at length this summer if he wished to continue on, with his wife reportedly urging him to step down, but he chose to continue on with the new season after successful persuasion from the front office.

Unfortunately, things have not gone as planned, with Sunderland sitting 19th in the table, only above Newcastle on goal differential and without a single win on the season. They’ve conceded a whopping 18 goals so far this season through eight league matches.

“I have made the decision to go after only eight games as I felt it was important to give everyone time turn things around – like we did last year,” Advocaat said upon his departure. “I am thankful to the chairman for understanding my feelings and I remain on good terms with everyone at the club.

“I wish Ellis [Short], Lee [Congerton], all of the staff, players and of course the supporters, who made me feel so welcome here, the very best of luck for the rest of the season. I have some wonderful memories to take with me and I hope I will return to see everybody again in the future.”

“I am truly saddened by Dick’s decision,” chairman Ellis Short said, “but I respect him for his honesty and for doing what he feels is right for the club. He is a man of integrity and a true football person. He was hugely respectful of the club in taking this decision and he acted 100% in our best interests. It is also testament to his character that he has forgone any kind of a financial settlement, something which is very unusual in football.”

Meanwhile, the Black Cats have dipped into what is becoming a perennial cycle, making a managerial change for the fourth time in the last four seasons.

Rumors are swirling that a host of experienced Premier League managers could be up for the job, including the currently unemployed Sam Allardyce and Harry Redknapp. Other linked names include former Leicester manager Nigel Pearson and current Burnley boss Sean Dyche.

Sepp Blatter’s daughter slams media for ruining her father’s reputation

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Sepp Blatter’s daughter blames the media, not her father, for Sepp’s downfall as the head of FIFA and believes he will not step down until the February congress as he initially announced.

“The media has ruined his reputation,” Corinne Blatter told Swiss newspaper Blick. “Why are they picking on him? What did he do to them? … It’s not just envy. It’s hatred.”

A host of major sponsors, including Coca-Cola, McDonalds and Visa called for Blatter’s immediate resignation as president of FIFA, to which the 79-year-old swiftly rejected. This all came after Blatter was called in by Swiss authorities for questioning after the opening of an investigation surrounding corporate mismanagement charges.

“I was afraid that they now take him away in handcuffs,” Corinne said. “He told me, ‘I must be dreaming.’ A federal policeman assured me that he could after hearing home.”

Blick pressed Corinne on many issues, all of which she defender her father. She refused to comment on many that had to do with the investigation, but did give us this gem when asked how Sepp likes to spend his money.

“He buys shoes and travel bags. He has worked 40 years. His life is modest, without any extravagance. He doesn’t play golf or go sailing.”

Shoes and handbags. What an image.