DC United Wins Hearts, Loses Its Mind

CARSON, CA - SEPTEMBER 18: Head Coach Ben Olsen of D.C. United looks on prior to their MLS match against the Los Angeles Galaxy at The Home Depot Center on September 18, 2010 in Carson, California. The Galaxy defeated United 2-1. (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)

Let me step back from my normal neutral MLS observer/blogger and enter fan mode for a few minutes.  I think this is the best way to analyze the Ben Olsen hiring.

As a DC United supporter, I am ecstatic that Ben Olsen is the new head coach of the club.  His resume as a DC United player is exemplary and he has been with the Black and Red through good times and bad.  He was there when RFK was a good soccer venue and now when it is a disgrace.  He has won MLS Cups and seen the worst MLS club in history up-close.  Throughout it all he has been a leader and a revered part of the organization.  I spoke with a fellow DC United fan today and he was beyond happy for the hiring because he is a long-time Olsen fan.  I thought it interesting that the reaction tends to be just that: “I love Ben Olsen.”  The emotional aspect of his hiring is that he is one of us, and he has achieved a dream job just a year after leaving the pitch as a player.  In that aspect, this is a great hiring and one the fans can support.

But when you set the heart aside and begin to analyze this with your head, this quote about Olsen as a head coach jumps to mind:

“I don’t think he’s ready. I really believe Ben is going to be a very good coach someday. I just think his brain works the way your brain needs to work to be a successful. He’s thoughtful, he looks for reasons why, he understands the mentality of the players, he has a fierce will to win and a competitive streak. But it takes time to understand how to manage a group through a long season.”

That lengthy quote analyzing the new head coach of DC United was made by his boss, Kevin Payne, days after the worst season in DC United history was finished.  Olsen was the interim head coach and his record was eerily similar to the man he replaced in terms of win percentage.  I don’t think many people disagreed at the time with Payne that the now-youngest coach in MLS history was not ready to take on the top job.

Yet here he was today in DC all smiles with the DC United leadership after being hired for a job he wanted but didn’t expect to get.  We know from The Washington Post that DC United interviewed about seven candidates, including Lucien Favre (a bad word in DC today) who was moderately successful in Bundesliga.  Most of the candidates were MLS assistants, and I suspect DC United reached out to a few college coaches.  But none of the seven were the fit that Ben Olsen was, according to the team.  To put this in perspective, in November 2009 Ben Olsen was on the pitch as a player.  One year later, he is the head coach after spending less than a year as an assistant.  Yet he is a better fit for the club than these seven other candidates.  Again, emotionally this is exciting for DC fans, but logically it makes no sense or suggests an untold storyline, especially since Olsen was initially told he would not be considered for the head job!

As I mentioned in another post on this subject, DC United is at a crossroads.  The future is unsettled but the past is known – the once glorious franchise has reached a nadir, and all the people in charge of running the team have returned.  The interim (now permanent) head coach, the team president, general manager, and owner will all be the same next year.  And this is not Olsen’s fault, nor do I blame him for saying yes when offered.  However the move looks to outsiders and cynics as a cost-saving, desperation move.

With all my heart I hope Ben Olsen succeeds and leads DC United back into the playoffs.  But I hope my heart is right and my head is wrong.

6 thoughts on “DC United Wins Hearts, Loses Its Mind”

  1. Not like they don’t have an example of how to turn it around….NY ( and LA ) should be their blueprint.

    NO not the NY that went out and got Henry. DC doesn’t have that kind of money, nor do they need it. The NY that won plenty without Henry.

    Find a goal keeper, not a Euro-retread, which barely ever works even with DP ex-total studs.

    Get a Defensive stud out of college with their draft pick. Is Ream’s or Gonzolas’s brother coming out ?

    Ethan White is a player that will go to the draft if DC doesn’t pick him up. BUT HE IS A DC ACADEMY PLAYER, for all you college draft haters out there !!!
    Sweeeeet….sign him and get another first round pick.

    Then see where that takes you. Not like they have zero players.

    1. Charles –

      Agree with most of your comments save one. Bill Hamid is an up-and-comer if he can stay healthy, which was part of his problem last season. What DC really needs is a Kasey Keller (or pre-Dallas Kevin Hartman), an older experienced MLS keeper who can keep the team in matches but just warm the seat for Hamid. Perkins wasn’t that and wasn’t going to be that this year.

  2. And once again we see the IF-THEN fans….who think that MLS should be targetting them……showing up in droves to talk soccer. 😉

    ” IF MLS improves the quality and changes this and modifies that (x100) then I will become a real fan….
    Until then my favorite league is in Europe, PLEASE LANDON LEAVE and I will rip on anything MLS ”

    Join them on them on the Anti-US Soccer Talk posts found in this blog.

  3. All great points. You could almost take any of the quotes above and apply them to Jason Kreis when he took over for John Ellinger at Real Salt Lake. Yet, after a challenging first season in 2007 he took the team to its first playoffs in 2008, won MLS Cup in 2009, and put together a highly competitive team in 2010 who has a lot of potential to do well in the CONCACAF Champions league.

    Granted, Kreis has a stellar supporting cast in GM Garth Lagerway and his assistant coaches, but I guess what I’m trying to say is success is not impossible for Olsen. He may have his challenges but if he is as dedicated as it sounds he may work out for DC.

    I’m sure there may have been other more qualified candidates but with the college game it takes a lot more than a well qualified Euro-coach to be successful in the league. I’ll be interested to see what Olsen can do and if he can mirror the success of Kreis. Good Luck Ben.

  4. I hope Olsen succeeds as a head coach. That was a definite cost saving move because of the Onalfo’s contract is still on the books after his firing. As Josh mentioned, that Jason Kreis success came with a stellar supporting cast. DC United management (i.e. president and gm) were less than stellar with last season acquisitions. The acquisition of Dax McCarty is a good start in the right direction for next season.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *