[MLS] Two games into his stint as head coach
of the MLS team he once played for, Curt Onalfo and D.C. United are 0-2 and it has yet to score a goal while conceding six. Onalfo says the team played much
better last weekend in a 2-0 home loss to the Revs than it did in a 4-0 loss at Kansas City to open the season, and expects further improvement at Philadelphia on Saturday.
SOCCER AMERICA: Your rough start to the season has triggered anguish from some fans. How do you assess where the team is right now?
CURT ONALFO: We have a very young team. We’ve made tremendous strides, we had a very good preseason, and we just continue to get better. We obviously took a huge hit in Kansas City, a major step backwards, but we learned from it.
We came out knowing exactly what New England was going to bring; drop off and play low-pressure, and I thought we did a really good job of breaking that down, we just didn’t finish. If you look at the game over 90 minutes, we were – in my opinion – the better team, but at the end of the day, the scoreboard didn’t read that way.
SA: A young team can get discouraged easily if the results are poor. How do you handle this aspect of coaching this group?
ONALFO: We’re going to focus on the positives, that we’ve made progress, and we believe in this group, knowing that there will be some growing pains along the way. If you look at our team, [Chris] Pontius, [Rodney] Wallace, [Dejan] Jakovic, [Brandon] Barklage, [Christian] Castillo being new to the league, it’s a young team.
There’s a lot of coaching and the guys are responding well. We believe in ourselves despite the fact the results haven’t gone our way the first two games of the season. We felt like we had a good performance against New England but the finishing wasn’t there.
SA: One of your new players, defender Juan Manuel Pena, isn’t young at all. He’s 37. How is he adapting to MLS?
ONALFO: He hasn’t played in a while, but Pena is just class, a wonderful passer of the ball. We feel good from that standpoint. We just have to do a better job of creating width in our attack, getting better wide play, and just be more precise in front of goal.
SA: A few of the players you mentioned are in their second pro seasons. Brandon Barklage is getting time on the right side of midfield. What have you been emphasizing with him?
ONALFO: Like all players, there’s been a big emphasis on speed of thought on both sides of the ball and making quicker decisions. He’s a great competitor and I really like him. He has a strong character and competes well. That was just his second start as a pro, and he had a good performance, so we’ll build on that.
SA: Australian striker Danny Allsopp is the team’s most prominent off-season signing and played the second half against Kansas City. What’s your evaluation of him so far?
ONALFO: He’s played very well over the last two-and-a-half, three weeks, and scored two goals in the reserve game [a 5-2 win over Crystal Palace Baltimore Monday]. Quite frankly, it’s Jaime’s [Moreno] form the last two weeks of the preseason that has precluded some of his playing time. He’s a strong, physical presence and a good finisher. He works hard. He’s a typical No. 9 but can do a little more, he’s got good feet.
SA: Rodney Wallace played solidly as a rookie last year in midfield. How is he handling the role of a starting left back?
ONALFO: He’s played two MLS games at left back. He’s learning and he’s improved from the first game to the second game. He’s done a solid job and he’ll only get better.
It’s the same with all these guys, they’re raw. I’ve done so much coaching and it’s been so rewarding, because they’re all improving. Once we get it together, it’s going to be really exciting.
SA: The Union’s new stadium isn’t ready so you’ll play at Lincoln Financial Field, home of the NFL Eagles. How will your players react to an unfamiliar surface and the environment?
ONALFO: We’ll train there on Friday. We know that’s going to be an emotional game for that franchise and it’s not going to be easy to walk into that situation. Aren’t they looking at about 40,000 people or something? It’s going to be a great crowd.
I experienced a very similar thing when I was in Kansas City. We played the first game in Toronto [in 2007], and that was unbelievable, the energy in the stadium. We know it’s going to be a challenge but we’ll be up for that. We can’t wait for it, honestly. I’m sure that we’ll respond just fine.