Tampa Bay Sports Day

Soehn brings memories to DC

Tom Soehn left DC United just two seasons ago, but with all of the drama surrounding the franchise since his departure, it seems like eons ago. Harkening back however, his six years here as an assistant and later head coach were not void of their own drama but quite productive.

While Soehn served as Peter Nowak’s top assistant for two years, United won the club’s last MLS Cup title in 2004 and followed that up with another Supporter’s Shield in 2005. After taking over as head coach a year later they won the Supporter’s Shield in again in 2007 and went to the finals of the U.S. Open Cup in his final two seasons, winning the crown in 2008.

Yes, the earlier than expected exits in the MLS Playoffs were disappointing to the front office and many fans, but he left a very subtle and indelible mark on the franchise that is still felt today in many ways.

He and Nowak inherited the ego of Bobby Convey and the mismanaged Freddy Adu saga when they took over in 2004. One of those issues was quickly jettisoned but overall they handled Adu as well as anyone could have expected given the circumstances surrounding his abrupt entry into the league.

Soehn returns to RFK Stadium for the first time this Saturday as Director of Soccer Operations and head coach of Vancouver Whitecaps FC. He will not however be coaching against his former player, Ben Olsen, but against Chad Ashton, his former teammate on multiple occasions and former top assistant with United.

Olsen was ejected during United’s 3-3 draw with Toronto last Saturday so Ashton will run the team in his stead.

“Obviously a little awkward because we were teammates for a long time but we are both competitive so it doesn’t matter if we are playing checkers or coaching against each other we just want to wins,” said the typically stoic Ashton with a wry smile. “There aren’t a lot of secrets in this league and I think both teams will have a pretty good idea of what to expect from each other.”

Ashton and Soehn played with each other on four different occasions starting with the Colorado Foxes of the American Professional Soccer League from 1992-94 while simultaneously playing for the Denver Thunder in the National Professional Soccer League (indoors).

They later played together for the Wichita Wings in that same league from 1994-96 and ultimately for the Dallas Burn in 1996, Major League Soccer’s inaugural season, and Ashton’s only season in the league.

Soehn went on to win an MLS Cup title with the Chicago Fire in their first year of existence and his first of three seasons with the team, which is where his relationship with Nowak blossomed.

Soehn’s biggest asset was his intensity and more than anything else, his passion for the game. He admittedly had marginal skills at best. But he made up with heart and determination and a little bit of a mean streak on the field.

In that 1998 season, Soehn joined the Fire in mid-season and was immediately assigned to room with the team’s speedy, and back then, occasionally brash 20-year old forward, Josh Wolff.

He was given the moniker of “Touch-Tackle-Tommy” by many of his teammates in Chicago and his young roomie at the time played along. His first touch was heavy more times than not which lead to the need for an immediate tackle to get the ball back.

“He wasn’t afraid to lay into some guys usually after a nauseating first touch,” said a gleeful Wolff.

But it’s those competitive qualities that he brings to any team or any endeavor he associates himself with, including this Whitecaps team.

“It was my finding my stride that first year and my staying level headed and keeping the work rate high and not getting too carried away with yourself,” added Wolff. “Great guy, super competitor and he’s done a lot in the game now and he brings that mentality; that bite, that physicality, that mental toughness. He’s a grinder and he works and you are starting to see that in their team. They are a solid team.”

Vancouver has been beset with injuries for most of the year. But they have slowly been getting healthy so their results can be misleading. They completely dismantled Chicago 4-2 last weekend at home, with Chicago getting a late goal to make the score a bit more respectable.

Soehn’s most unappreciated strength however, except to the Whitecaps ownership, is his ability to judge talent and handle personalities, the latter being perhaps the most important skill a coach in any professional sport can have.

“That’s just how he is. He is very observant of everything that is going on around him and he knows how try to get guys to succeed and get the best out of them. It’s about managing guys as a coach but it’s also about teaching young guys and enabling them to grow as a player,” said Wolff.

“I was fortunate to have those types of guys around me like that in Chicago and have Tommy as my roommate. He is certainly very good for any organization and Vancouver is certainly starting to show their worth a bit.”

One two of his most under-appreciated accomplishments during his tenure in Washington was drafting and then the initial development of Chris Pontius and the resurrection of Santino Quaranta.

“The biggest thing for me is that he gave me confidence and he put his trust in me and it started in my very first game,” said Pontius, who started that first game. “And he continued to put that confidence in me throughout the year even though there are rough patches your rookie year, you hit some games when you are not playing as well as you should and it’s a learning experience but he kept playing me and I thank him for that.”

And just as Soehn and other players were treated during his developmental years in the era in the 70’s and 80’s, he was unrelenting on the young Pontius because he saw early on what he could be.

“Every training session he was on me to be a better player and that is something that stuck with me,” Pontius added. “And sometimes I would get frustrated with him because I thought he was picking on me but it was because he knew my potential and he wanted me to reach that potential so he was on me every second. The little things that go unnoticed he was always harping on me for.”

Quaranta was not only on his way out of the league but on his way to destroying himself in the process. After drugs, depression and addictions nearly ended his career and possibly his life, Soehn took a chance on him and he hasn’t looked back since.

“Tommy is a special guy to me. He was my first coach back (with United). I really love Tommy. He’s a great guy and a great coach,” said a nearly emotional Quaranta.

Quaranta Update:

After playing an unexpected full 90-minutes in the 3-3 draw with Toronto, it was no surprise that Santino Quaranta slept pretty well Saturday night.

“I was exhausted. It was probably one of the best night’s sleep I’ve had in a long time because physically, when I woke up Sunday morning everything was sore. It was like a good sore,” said a very happy Quaranta. “It was good to be back.”

Quaranta did not show any post-concussion symptoms after the match so he should be clear for the rest of the season.

“Once you are over it you are not any more susceptible than anyone else on the field, at least that’s what I’ve been told,” he said.