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D.C. United to hire Onalfo as head coach

Curt Onalfo ( 

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D.C. United's search for its sixth head coach has come to an end and D.C. has settled on a coach with plenty of ties to the club.

D.C. has hired Curt Onalfo as its new head coach and could announce the decision as early as today, sources told SBI on Monday. The decision comes two months after former head coach Tom Soehn pulled himself out of the mix to return and two weeks after Caleb Porter turned down the job, choosing instead to stay at the University of Akron.

Onalfo will take charge after having spent two and a half seasons as head coach of the Kansas City Wizards before being fired last August. He took a KC team that hadn't reached the playoffs in two straight seasons and led it to the post-season in each of his two full seasons in charge. The Wizards lost to the eventual MLS Cup champion both years.

A 40-year-old cancer survivor, Onalfo takes over an underachieving D.C. United team that has failed to reach the playoffs in each of the past two seasons. The current D.C. squad is at a crossroads, with Ben Olsen having just retired, former MLS MVP Luciano Emilio looking like a good bet to leave MLS and aging stars Jaime Moreno and Christian Gomez reaching the ends of their careers. With an infusion of quality young talent that includes Chris Pontius, Rodney Wallace and Danny Szetela, as well as the recent signing of Salvadorean winger Christian Castillo, Onalfo will have the task of turning D.C. into a serious contender in the Eastern Conference.

No stranger to D.C. United, Onalfo spent two of his four seasons as a player in MLS with D.C. United, including the 1999 season when D.C. won MLS Cup. His coaching career began as an assistant with D.C. for two seasons under head coaches Thomas Rongen and Ray Hudson before leaving to join Bruce Arena's staff with the U.S. national team.

Onalfo's hiring leaves two MLS head coaching openings as we head toward the new year. The New York Red Bulls and Chicago Fire are without coaches, though both are expected to have coaches in place before next month's 2010 MLS Draft. The Red Bulls are believed to be considering a handful of European candidates, while Chicago is considering foreign options as well as former D.C. head coach Tom Soehn.

There is no word yet on who will make up Onalfo's coaching staff, though recently-retired Ben Olsen is expected to be considered for a position as an assistant. Long-time assistant Mark Simpson is also a candidate to remain with the club, though there are rumors that he could leave D.C. to join Frank Yallop's staff with the San Jose Earthquakes.

What do you think of this hire? Think Onalfo can help return D.C. to the MLS elite?

Share your thoughts below.


  1. I think Onalfo’s time in the Navy SEALS gives him a toughened perspective. I understand he will bring a discipline and fitness regimen to the team that will improve the side exponentially.

  2. For the people who are saying Onalfo isn’t an attacking coach, or that he promised that in K.C. but didn’t deliver, this isn’t entirely true. I grew to be very disappointed with Onalfo, but when he was first hired he definitely had K.C. playing attacking soccer and I really appreciated it. I was never a big fan of K.C. mostly because of their defensive boring soccer.

    Onalfo had K.C. playing exciting attacking soccer but as is often the case he eventually started getting poor results. Then he started playing more defensively and it helped and it was bye bye attacking soccer. For some reason whenever you play attacking soccer and get bad results it is always the fault of the attacking soccer. Hopefully he will try it again in D.C. and make it work this time.

  3. This signing does not excite me. I’m feeling something like least of the worst options as someone above mentioned.

    And to think we did not go for the Bruce last year when he was available or Preki this year.

    His record is pretty thin that if he doesn’t get some results pretty quickly, the sharks will be circling very early.

  4. I am VERY EXCITED for Curt Onalfo and DC United! This was a great decision that will pay off for both DC United and Curt Onalfo. DC United keeps it within the family without having to settle for Richie Williams or gamble on an unproven college coach. As a former player for DC United that won trophies, he understands he has a high level of expectations to live up to, and the DC United fan base (somewhat unrealistically) expects silverwear every season. What I am most pleased with is that he was a top assistant to Bruce Arena (the father of American Soccer) and the USMNT program, at a time when a great amount of success was achieved. I think with a successful time at DC United, he certainly could be considered a possible candidate for USMNT head coach down the road. At DC United, he will be given all the resources he needs to build a winner, much like his mentor Bruce Arena had at the club. The team already has a few young international stars on the rise, as well as a few veterans (including MLS’s greatest player and all time leading scorer- Jaime Moreno) that can help make the transition much easier.

    Kudos to DC United! Coach Onalfo was an excellent choice. DC United will be back in the playoffs THIS YEAR! (The fans will expect no less!)

    My advice to Coach Onalfo is to keep mining in Brazil, Argentina, Colombia and Africa. The club has done a great job trolling those waters, and the league is better off for it!

  5. Another questionable decisiion by the DC brass. Onalfo’s credentials are paper thin, at best. Maybe Eddie Johnson will be wearing the Black and Red when he is jettisoned by Fulham once the transfer window opens in January. Just what we need, another flake.

  6. Ives,

    What does it mean about Richie Williams that all these teams that had or have an available position do not make him an offer? Could it be that they see something about him that we don’t?

    I mean, he does fit the requirements that many ask for about having MLS experience and blah blah blah


    (SBI- Williams fits most standard requirements, but it still comes down to teams having their preferences and it’s clear that Toronto and Chivas USA had their people in mind while New York’s new leadership is more interested in European options. That leaves Chicago and D.C. Williams was initially on the radar with the FIre but then never interviewed becuase Chicago settled on some final candidates. With D.C, I don’t get the impression that Willams has the coziest relationship with D.C. president Kevin Payne, who ultimately hired Onalfo. Ultimately, Williams has to be hired as a head coach, but I do see him getting that chance eventually. He is still pretty young and if he continues to impress when given the opportunities, it will only be a matter of time.)

  7. Except he has played in France and Mexico, and was an assistant coach on the USMNT for the ’06 World Cup and qualifying.

    Don’t let facts get in the way of a good opinion, though.

  8. Espinoza was picked in the draft. He wasn’t brought in from outside, the kid is from texas. His parents are from Honduras.

    The people he did bring in from outside were, Carlos Marinelli, Ivan Trujillo, and Santiago Hirsig.

  9. Sad, Agree with Nick….

    Will continue to support Curt and Team, but with low expectation. I am wondering how the DCU FO will measure success ? Making the play-offs? (probably)Anything more is unlikely.
    Wondering how this might effect draft picks, not sure as a young player entering the league that I would be happy going to DC, as an overseas/experienced I would have doubts, you always look to join a winning team. I think that we are entering a period of LA Galaxy domination..and good luck to them – they are doing it the right way.

    Vamos United

  10. The league is still way too young to say this has been “proven.” I guarantee you that this will change. MLS’ unique rules are not rocket science. With an experienced MLS GM a foreign coach will succeed.

    It’s just a matter of time and the right situation.

  11. …and them watch him fail like all the expensive international coaches Red Bull has had.(no offense RB fans)I think its been proven that hiring international coaches is not a recipe for success in MLS.

  12. Curt will most likely bring Kris “K-dog” Kelderman into DCU as an assistant too. There’s a lot to like about Curt and i recognized his local ties, but in all his coaching experiences has he distinguished himself to indicate he can turn the beloved United around? Does he have the passion and can he get the talent behind him to make a run for the MLS cup?

    Respect the man but not sure about the coach. I’m on the fence.

  13. i think he is a decent manager, he knows only that of soccer within this country it seems however

    KC was once of the most american teams under him in MLS and that means the play was very simple and boring to some extent besides when they gave the ball to Lopez

    he doesnt seem like the type of manager who would fit into DC’s style

    DC has always played through the midfield like KC but are much more complex and skilled(Gomez,Quaranta,Castillo,Pontius,Moreno)

    This really doesnt seem like the guy that will take them to the playoffs… thought was a manager that had a reputation for looking outside MLS ESPECIALLY when DC is about to loose their DP

    the only really intriguing player that was brought into KC from outside the US was Espinoza and thats because he is promising and already as productive as lopez and hirsig have been for KC

    the problem with them not signing him would be the other options might be worse

  14. Best of the worst to be honest. I think he is the right man considering the other options. He has a better pedigree and has been with the club in the past. He will do a good job this season.

    Now let’s move on and prepare for the draft. We had a fantastic draft last year, let’s duplicate it.

  15. Could be worse. Not happy about the choice but glad we have someone so we he can settle himself and the team.

    Hope to see Benny as an assistant but I can see him taking a year or so off. He’s said he has other passions, so so long as he saved properly, he won’t be begging for work. However, Benny has a huge future as a coach if he continues.

    Bringing in young players, have a young coach now lets build a stadium (har har) and recapture our dominance!

  16. I think the key to this is “why did he fail to make the playoffs his last year with KC?” and the answer determines how effective he is/will be as a coach.

    We tend to view the playoffs and W-L as the be-all/end-all evaluator of the playoffs (JCO makes MLS Cup final–he must be a great coach). Personally, I always felt that KC had game plans/tactics against DCU that surprised the team or created mis-matches, that Onalfo did a great job getting the most out of EJ when he was there, that he did a good job developing young Americans, and that he tried to build a program (fitness, practice facility, coaches that do more than coach the senior side) with the ownership that goes beyond just focusing on your 11-15 players who see most of the time. I liked what I saw. OTOH, none of that means he’ll be a great coach.

  17. I know there are a lot of Onalfo detractors in DC but I’m not one of them. I have always liked him. He did a good job on the Nats and was tutored by the best in Arena. He did a nice job with very little at KC and my kids had benefit of the great work he did as tecnical director of McLean Youth soccer.

    I say give him a shot, he’ll have more talent to work with than he did at KC. I suspect the next announcement will be Benny as an assistant coach and the two of them should lead DC to the playoffs assuming the front office doesn’t sell off more of the best talent and replace it with weaker players.


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