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Onalfo is latest victim of 'three and out'
by Ridge Mahoney, August 4th, 2009 7AM
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[MLS] A catchphrase is routinely attached to teams that crash out of a competition after the first round, which often consists of a triad of games: three and out.

The failed U.S. World Cup campaigns of 1990, 1998, and 2006 come to mind, though staunch efforts such as those put forth by the 1992 and 1996 U.S. Olympic teams - 1-1-1 records and ties in their final games against Poland and Portugal, respectively - yielded the same outcome with greater honor.

For many well-known MLS coaches, it's also been three and out -- three seasons and they're gone.

The latest to fall at that hurdle is Curt Onalfo, who started for the USA in its 2-2 tie with Poland in 1992. His tenure as Kansas City head coach blew up 18 games into his third season Saturday when FC Dallas pummeled the Wizards, 6-0, at Pizza Hut Park.

Technical director Peter Vermes, who turned down the Galaxy job last season after AEG fired Ruud Gullit, will take over as interim head coach. (Contrary to many erroneous reports, Vermes was never offered the Seattle head coaching job.)

In his first head coaching assignment, Onalfo, the former D.C. United player and U.S. national team assistant coach, posted a 27-29-22 record in MLS play. Assistant coach Kris Kelderman has also been dismissed, which seems a clear indicator that a revamp of the coaching staff will accompany the move to a new stadium next season.

In Onalfo's first season, Kansas City went 11-12-7 and reached the Eastern Conference finals. Last year it improved slightly during the regular season to 11-10-9, but stumbled in the first round to eventual champion Columbus. With 12 games to go in the 2009 season, the Wizards are 5-7-6 and seventh in the East, only one place above the horrid Red Bulls. That track record is far from terrible, but it's also well short of impressive.

Onalfo and his players believe that the smallish dimensions at CommunityAmerica Ballpark don't suit their style of play. The Wizards are only slightly better at home (3-3-3) than on the road (2-4-3), and all team management needed was to do the math to see its dimming chances in a tightly packed playoff race. It is on pace to compile 35 points; this year, if a team doesn't hit the low 40s at least, it won't make the eight-team cut.

The "three and out" for MLS head coaches doesn't provide for three full seasons, mind you. It simply designates the season that quite often, the ax may come down if progress is deemed inadequate.

Fernando Clavijo
(New England), John Ellinger (Real Salt Lake), Tim Hankinson (Tampa Bay), Mike Jeffries (Dallas), Brian Quinn (San Jose), Thomas Rongen (D.C. United), Steve Sampson (Los Angeles), Ivo Wortmann (Miami) and Octavio Zambrano (Los Angeles as well as the MetroStars) all departed either during their third season or at the end of it.

When it operated the Kansas City team, Hunt Sports Group employed only two head coaches in 11 seasons: Ron Newman and Bob Gansler. OnGoal LLC, the company formed by the ownership group after it bought the team in 2006, is less patient or more ambitious, as the case may be.

Said OnGoal CEO and Wizards president Robb Heineman said. "We are committed to developing high-performance and consistency around our club."


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