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Posted at 3:21 AM ET, 11/28/2010

Ben Olsen emerges as the top candidate for D.C. United's head coaching position

By Steve Goff

After saying repeatedly that Ben Olsen is not ready to be a head coach, D.C. United is close to hiring the former midfielder and interim coach to guide the MLS club.

Olsen has moved to the top of United's list and could be introduced as the head coach this week, several sources said.

Per club policy, United officials do not comment on possible coaching candidates. Neither Olsen, 33, nor his representatives returned messages late Saturday night.

The club has also decided to replace longtime goalkeepers coach Mark Simpson. The leading candidate to step in, sources said, is Tim Mulqueen, who mentored World Cup keeper Tim Howard and has worked with the U.S. youth national teams. Simpson did not return messages, but one team source said the former United goalie has been pursuing other opportunities.

For much more.....

United officials interviewed at least seven candidates for the head coaching job, including former Hertha Berlin boss Lucien Favre, who was in Washington for talks this month. It's unclear whether he turned down an offer, withdrew from consideration or did not make a favorable impression.

Olsen, the most popular player in team history, retired last winter after 12 years and was subsequently named to Curt Onalfo's coaching staff. When Onalfo was fired in August with a 3-12-3 record in league play, Olsen was named interim coach.

Initially reluctant to take the role, Olsen grew more confident as time passed and, by the end of the season, expressed interest in the permanent position. Despite a 3-8-1 record, he drew praise from the players for his communication and motivational skills.

Financial factors were also apparently in play in United's search. Onalfo was just eight months into a three-year guaranteed contract valued at an estimated $300,000 annually. Some observers believe that, with him on the payroll through 2012 and owner Will Chang actively searching for secondary investors, United does not have the budget to attract an experienced international coach.

Throughout Olsen's tenure, United President Kevin Payne said that, while he believed Olsen would someday be a head coach, he lacked the experience to be considered right away.

Two days after the worst regular season in United's history concluded, Payne said: "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. Some of it is technical knowledge, teaching them how to play."

"We saw the positive, and in general, the team played harder. We became more difficult to play against. And we didn't sacrifice the way we play and tried to play good soccer. We still had a lot of breakdowns and we still couldn't score. It's been a great learning experience for Ben and I am sure he will learn a great deal over the next couple of years. I fully expect Ben will be our head coach someday."

From all indications, "someday" might be sooner than anyone expected.

By Steve Goff  | November 28, 2010; 3:21 AM ET
Categories:  D.C. United  | Tags:  D.C. United  
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Completely separate from the issue of whether Ben is ready to be a permanent head coach or not, the way the search for a new manager has been conducted (for the second straight off-season) does not inspire a lot of confidence. I'd love to see how KP explains hiring someone who in his opinion just weeks ago was not ready for the job. I'm as big a fan of Ben as the next lifelong DCU fan, and he'll have my support, but I can't help but feel he's being set up to fail. This is not a club with a foundation for success at the moment. More fundamental changes are needed (definitely new investors, possibly a new technical director, and ideally a resolution to the distracting stadium situation).

Posted by: ricky_b | November 28, 2010 3:39 AM | Report abuse

Chang-Kaspar-Payne strike again! Read between the lines: nobody wanted the job. The real irony is that the oafs at the top consider themselves competent enough to actually go through this process - all by themselves!!! Mommy would be so proud. Last season was an abomination - in the Old Testament sense of the word. So far, 2011 is looking to be proof that the Titanic CAN sink twice.

Posted by: hofbrauhausde | November 28, 2010 6:40 AM | Report abuse

Same old stuff! They can't hire a good coach because they want their hand on the throttle. Look what happened when they hired Peter,he bucked their desires and won.Tommy did the same thing but with less success because they got to him by the end of each season,hence the poor playoff showing. Mark Simpson was let go because he wanted to be considered for the head coaches position and was upset when he wasn't considered for it.Loo for the same staff just because they are all cronies of Kasper&Payne. Who would want to play for this front office?

Posted by: soccerfan | November 28, 2010 7:08 AM | Report abuse

Same old stuff! They can't hire a good coach because they want their hand on the throttle. Look what happened when they hired Peter,he bucked their desires and won.Tommy did the same thing but with less success because they got to him by the end of each season,hence the poor playoff showing. Mark Simpson was let go because he wanted to be considered for the head coaches position and was upset when he wasn't considered for it.Loo for the same staff just because they are all cronies of Kasper&Payne. Who would want to play for this front office?

Posted by: soccerfan | November 28, 2010 7:09 AM | Report abuse

You're full of it, soccerfan. What did Nowak do to "buck their desires?" All those super-secret player signings he snuck past the GM and team president? Same for Tommy. Where have you seen Simpson pining for the top spot?


Posted by: spidergoose | November 28, 2010 7:26 AM | Report abuse

Spidergoose; Piotr did much to "buck their desires." He wouldn't make any appearances in front of the fans (he was deathly bashful about his thick accent); he never helped out with Communty Relations projects; he would't play Adu more than he did (he called him the "little sheet,") when the pressure to do so from the league marketing professionals, Freddy's agent and family came through KP at him in a big way.

Soehn wasn't any better in any of these parts of it, and he was further burdened with a narrow-minded stupididty. Soehn didn't even know the identities of long-time front office staffers, and was very proud of that. He, like Piotr, walked away rather than play the games that KP demanded.

For a coach in MLS, it's much more than about just getting "the player signings" super-secret or otherwise. You have to be the outward face of the team and play the politics of public relations. Piotr had no stomach for that.

Bottom line is that DCU is exactly where it was last year: about to select a coach that they initially rejected as a candidate. That's how it went last year with Curt before Kasper went on the drunken-rampage-like pursuit of the Akron coach, who rejecetd them and making a mess of Robin Fraser's viability. They are in this identical position because basically no one wants to come in and put up with KP's meddling and Kasper's incompetence. Any coach who would make an impact, like Schellas or Gary Smith, for example, or someone from overseas with a strong track-record, would demand more control than KP is willing to permit.

Meet the new boss; same as the old boss. Good luck in 2011.

Posted by: lgm6986 | November 28, 2010 7:51 AM | Report abuse

I suspect the real issue is not the other front office staff, but rather finances given how much they are still on the hook for with Onalfo. Clearly, our clubs finances are getting in the way of hiring a top notch foreign coach. This would seem to leave current MLS assistant coaches. So then it become Benny vs other asst coaches, not Benny versus the entire soccer universe. Given the state of our roster and inability of the club to invest in players, there are probably candidates who make a decision to continue as the number two at there clubs and wait for a better situation to develop. Nonetheless, I think this is all products of limited finances. DCU clearly needs to resolve the stadium situation and get an ownership group that is willing and able to more deeply invest in the club. The current state of affairs is just so damn depressing. To think that our club was The flagship team in the early days of the league and the greats that have worn the black. Look at us now. :(

Posted by: nyjer1 | November 28, 2010 8:30 AM | Report abuse

Wow--so much cynicism for just after Thanksgiving.

1. I don't doubt that any serious college candidates turned DCU down. Why would a Porter or Cirovski say "yes" to ANY program in MLS? Being a college coach of a big soccer program is a cushy job. It's not year-round, you get lots of bucks, tremendous security. Hyndmann said "yes" in part b/c he'd coached one of the Hunts in college. Arena said "yes" partially out of the challenge and also b/c he was looking at coaching the US Olympic team.

2. I actually don't have a problem with Simpson leaving. I don't know enough details to say for sure but...we bring in GKs and unless they're here only 2 months, they lose confidence, decision-making goes to crap, their game falls apart. Look at what happened to Perkins--decent chance to go to South Africa to instead a guy on the bench to a 19 y.o. academy player. Okay--random example you say. What about Crayton (veteran in international and Europe play) who becomes erratic with his decisions. Or Zach Wells (who looked fine with Metro and Houston and then was a trainwreck here)? I love the idea of tradition. But it's incredibly suspect to me that we get guys coming in to play for us with veteran experience and after a couple of months they start playing like unconfident rookies who can't make decisions. Regardless of who the head coach is, or the defenders or the quality of the team. That's a very damning indictment of the GK coach.

3. Is Ben Olsen the right guy for this job? I can't say. I suspect that Kreis is a bit of the flavor of the month (former player jumps straight into coaching, labeled as "too young", learns on the job) who produced an MLS title and a fine team with RSL. In that regard, Olsen fits right in.

Posted by: JoeW1 | November 28, 2010 8:33 AM | Report abuse

Pushed "send" too soon.

I suspect a lot of this is financial.

Posted by: JoeW1 | November 28, 2010 8:35 AM | Report abuse

You could see this coming from another galaxy. Hearing that exact stream of gibberish from Payne (world's leading authority on What Makes A Successful Coach) the first time around, it was more obvious that ever that nobody DCU wanted was going to want them.

I think Olsen is a good choice, and I'm relived Payne's senseless, condescending head-patting krapp didn't poison the well.

Personally, I'm still skeptical. This is exactly the situation where you can almost see DCU bringing in some clown at the last minute and just sticking him in there (deja vu?).

But failing that, fans, take heart. With Olsen as HC, next time (if there is a next time), it will NOT be the coach's head that rolls.

Posted by: Godfather_of_Goals | November 28, 2010 9:33 AM | Report abuse

Not wanting to play ball with the PR aspects of the job is a far cry from saying nobody wants the DC job because of Payne's "meddling" or Kasper's supposed incompetence.

JoeW1 is, as usual, the voice of reason in a forum that has descended to BigSoccer levels of ignorance.

Posted by: spidergoose | November 28, 2010 9:44 AM | Report abuse

Agree JoeW this smacks of poor financial circumstances dictating decisions. Having said that, I have no problem with Bennie getting the job. I am not looking for an MLS Cup next year, just a professional side that makes the playoffs.

Posted by: KRIKET | November 28, 2010 9:47 AM | Report abuse

I supported "Benny-ball" from his Game 1. If it is the decision, it's a good decision.

Posted by: carnack | November 28, 2010 9:54 AM | Report abuse


No Denis Hamlett?

Ives is gonna be so upset after shamelessly stumping for him to get the job.

Posted by: orimaarko | November 28, 2010 9:59 AM | Report abuse

IF Olsen gets the job largely due to financial considerations (willing to work cheap) and his willingness to accept Chang/Payne/Kasper's decision-making authority, THEN this is bad news.

Olsen does have the traditional advantages of domestic MLS types in knowing how the league works, knowing the players, collegiate soccer and having a realistic view on what financial resources teams have.

But Chang needs to open up his wallet at least enough to make DC United as financially competitive within MLS as the San Francisco Giants are in MLB. The money mentioned in connection with the DC United coaching position is extremely paltry in comparison with the salary the most insignificant major league baseball player earns.

The team went into a steep decline about when Emilio hurt his groin scoring a goal early in the 2008 Open Cup Final. Thin rosters and not enough available talent to remain competitive ever since.

Posted by: Joel_M_Lane | November 28, 2010 10:03 AM | Report abuse

A thread like this is like throwing a single bone to around 25 hungry rabid dogs. Quite frankly I have no problem with Ben really. Ben obviously had a lot of influence to determine who was protected and who wasn't in the expansion draft and was probably the one who influenced the Dax McCarty deal this past week.

Would Favre or Silooy have adapted to the league anyway given the recent track records of foreign coaches in MLS(excluding Backe)? I'd rather the tea hire Ben and go the RSL route(longer time to rebuild but longer lasting results) than hire a foreign coach and do the NYRB route(short rebuild time but could start to falter once Backe, Henry, Lindpere, and Marquez retire or move on).

Posted by: Unitedfury | November 28, 2010 10:16 AM | Report abuse

DysfunCtional United. Good luck, Ben.

Posted by: TidyPachyderm | November 28, 2010 10:17 AM | Report abuse

Ben's coaching gaffe in the Open Cup semis should have disqualified him from the job.

Down 10 men in regulation, up 1-0 and you don't use your first sub until late!!!?!

Posted by: delantero | November 28, 2010 10:25 AM | Report abuse


Some great points. A lot of this is financial, but to say merely that is to reduce this sorry mess to simple terms when in fact it is a very complex situation.

First of all, the word in the MLS agent community is that DCU is radioactive right now. Few if any qualified coaches, regardless of the background, do not want to come here unless the money and control are so overwhelming that it amounts to "an offer he can't refuse." This is not going to happen because as long as KP and his pool boy Kasper are around, there will be no such control conferred on any head coach. Likewise, there will be no "offer he can't refuse" because Will doesn't seem willing to spend anymore money unless new revenues streams are created by a new stadium.

KP has only himself to blame for the stadium situation. He hired one of the most expensive DC law firms, Arent Fox, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on the effort and all he has to show for it is a job for his daughter. He misread the DC political landscape, placing his faith in getting support for the Poplar Point project in an OUTGOING mayor, Tony Williams, and failing to note the rise of a figure, Fenty, who was the most adamant opponent of public subsidies for stadium projects, proclaimig that the Nats didn't need a new stadium, RFK would suit them just fine. He further put faith in a fading political figure, Marion Barry, calculating that by lining up the support of an Anacostia big shot, he would win over the city council. Poplar Point was not going to be decided by a cult figure from Anacostia; it was going to be decided by the mayor and city council.

This is why it is a financial issue for DCU: KP totally botched the stadium/development project for Poplar Point, selling Victor and Will a bill of goods that he didn't deliver because he wasn't sharp enough to read the political landscape in one of the most dysfunctional local governments in the country. Now they are left with a stinking pile of trash of a team in a dump of a stadium.

The second part of this is that as long as KP and the pool boy are in charge, no one of any high quality, no coach nor player, is going to come here. KP is not willing to cede control and Will doesn't seem inclined to make the move that would change that dynamic.

Under Ben, Fatty Chad is likely to remain on the bench if for no other purpose than to be Kasper's eyes and ears in the locker room and the bench, just as Ben was under Curt.

They are fortunate that their only choice for coach is a good one. But do we really think this move is going to give us the hope and inspiration to go out and buy season tickets for 2011? This is where this all does become financial.

Posted by: lgm6986 | November 28, 2010 10:48 AM | Report abuse

All for Ben...

Posted by: pdv1 | November 28, 2010 10:58 AM | Report abuse

It is fool's play to use the RSL model of hiring Jason as a comparison to DCU hiring Ben.

The difference between the RSL move and DCU is significant.

RSL's GM is one of the brightest people in MLS (Duke, GU Law). Garth has made one solid move after another: Olave, Morales, Grabavoy, Saborio. Kasper is one of the dumbest people on the planet (Maryland, RJ Bentley's) and has made one blunder after another: Neill, Wells, Los Dos Gonzalos.

The biggest difference is Checketts vs. Payne. Dave IS the smartest person in MLS and knows more about how to build a successful team (and, by the way, steer through some pretty challenging political waters to build a stadium for his team) than anyone in our little business.

It's not as simple as thinking you'll copy some other team's hiring of a former succesful MLS player off the field and put him right onto the bench. You have to build around that person and give him the support that he needs to succeed. You have to surround him with smart, creative thinkers (assistants, team staff, and a GM) who are competent. Kasper's and Payne's track record is an abysmal failure and they can hardly be trusted to be competent enough to succeed.

Posted by: lgm6986 | November 28, 2010 11:03 AM | Report abuse

Doe Ben even have coaching credentials? It's not Mark Simpson's fault Perkins sucks either.

Posted by: VirginiaFan | November 28, 2010 11:04 AM | Report abuse

From what I saw from the quite side, it look like Olsen was getting the most out of his rather limited talent pool. And that is all I really expect from a coach, to get the most out of his payers.

Posted by: dchooligan | November 28, 2010 11:12 AM | Report abuse

It won't matter a bit who our coach is until we upgrade the talent on the team. Unfortunately, with our thin backline and non-existent attack, I have a hard time seeing us acquiring enoough of both talent and quality depth to make any significant improvement next season. I hope I'm wrong.

Posted by: harryfuchs | November 28, 2010 11:29 AM | Report abuse

Ben Olsen needs to refuse this job. It's a career killer. It's exactly how Jim Zorn became the head coach of the Redskins. He failed and Olsen will fail too if he does this. Hes not ready to be the head coach of a club like DC. We may have fallen on hard times but this club has history and will not be patient for Olsen to learn on the job.

Posted by: tundey | November 28, 2010 11:40 AM | Report abuse

lgm6986, even Checketts had his growing pains. He almost lost the stadium fight due to incompentence of his then front office. He was rescued by his connections with Utah's governor. His wisest decision was to bring in Garth to straighten out his FO mess.

The big difference isn't Checketts vs Payne. It's Checketts vs Chang. By bringing in Langerwey, Checketts, the owner, took action to fix the FO situation from the top on down. Chang won't make the move.

Posted by: seahawkdad | November 28, 2010 12:03 PM | Report abuse

Approximately 112 days until United's first 2011 league match!

Given that time frame and the club's stated desire to have a head coach in place early it doesn't surprise that they're looking at Ben. The inability to attract more experienced candidates does seem to indicate that something else is going on. Maybe a move to Baltimore?

Posted by: Curious99 | November 28, 2010 12:06 PM | Report abuse

OT: There is NCAA tournament action at eight sites across the country, including Ludwig Field at 5:00 p.m.:

As an aside, I suspect that a Tampa Bay nonprofit executive named Gary MacMath may be feeling a bit conflicted today.

Posted by: universityandpark | November 28, 2010 12:09 PM | Report abuse

the moves that DCU made around the draft seem thoroughly consistent with an "Olsen style" team -- look to increase soccer IQ, possession ability and moxie, and unload undeveloped raw athletic talent (i.e., "projects") that did not seem to absorb much from their youthful mistakes.

I'm cool with that.

As for Nowak, I guess he was the first in a long and growing line of coaches who have failed to fully appreciate the soccer genius that is Freddy Adu. What any of that has to do with the present is beyond me, though.

Posted by: OWNTF | November 28, 2010 12:26 PM | Report abuse

Ben is the right guy to hire for the job. He proved in the last part of the season that he has earned the chance. I like him better than another retread like Hamlett or Sarachan.

The only problem with the situation is Payne's statements that Ben wasn't ready and would not be considered for the job. Why say that? I'm not part of the "fire Payne" bandwagon, but that move only limits your options and gains you nothing. It is an amateur move. A GM's job is to give the boring quotes that Goff hates like "we are keeping all of our options open at this time". This way if your high-profile search goes bust you haven't publicly eliminated one of your options.

Posted by: Golden_Child | November 28, 2010 1:21 PM | Report abuse

I'm behind this decision 100%. Not for any particular reasons except Ben Olsen is pretty darn amusing to watch. Sometimes more exciting than what's happening on the field...

Posted by: revsfanindc | November 28, 2010 1:54 PM | Report abuse

I agree with JoeW1. If this is a period of growth then lets take the opportunity for our coach to grow too.

Posted by: mmsq | November 28, 2010 2:16 PM | Report abuse

I'm very happy with Ben as coach, even if the process to reach that decision was rather convoluted. Now bring Jaime into the fold as well (either in the academy, as an assistant to Ben with the First Team, or a hybrid role combining both).

Posted by: Pedalada | November 28, 2010 3:39 PM | Report abuse

A couple of other observations about this: KP has also said that he wants a coach like Sigi or Bruce who have proven themselves with years of experience. Given these type of statements, what kind of message is Coach Olsen receiving from the front office? THEY HAVE NO CONFIDENCE IN YOU. They should, but they don't.

Second, United has a history of hiring coaches who are organizational insiders who will allow KP to run right through them with player decisions. Perhaps the other coach candidates were passed over because they didn't want to play that reindeer game.

Posted by: dsheon1 | November 28, 2010 8:42 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps the other coach candidates were passed over because they didn't want to play that reindeer game.

Similar perhaps to the reasons why Klinsi turned US Soccer down -- he wanted more authority than Gulati was willing to give him.

That said, I am worried sick for Ben in light of Payne's comments during and just after the season, but will be supporting him and the team 100%.

Posted by: DCUSince96 | November 28, 2010 9:37 PM | Report abuse

I hope Ben does away with the Hager Pants look. He's a sweat suit kind of guy!!!


Posted by: 9Nine9 | November 28, 2010 11:27 PM | Report abuse

I'm not worried about Benny...he has plenty of respect in the US soccer community so even if the DC job goes south, he will be fine.
I'm glad they hired him, I think that only someone like him can stand up to the FO bullcrap and make things happen. I fully expect him to battle both on and off the field to make DC better. He will put up with his bosses crap and fight them when needed because he loves DC United.
To Soehn, Nowak and Onalfo...being the coach of DC United was just a job. When the got tired of the crap...they walked...or in Onalfo's case...just gave up and waited to be fired. Benny won't...until he's fought every fight and is convinced the club can't be saved from Payne and Kasper.
Great hire....and I'm glad that no one else wanted the saved us from Payne/Kasper making another dumb decision. (onalfo, rongren, that funny english commentator on GolTV)

Posted by: matthewjfyoungs | November 29, 2010 1:02 AM | Report abuse


Your comment on Simpson are dead on. His handling of the GK's in the past 3 years has been incompetent.

Our GK's play has cost us the playoffs in 2 of the past 3 years.

Posted by: matthewjfyoungs | November 29, 2010 1:09 AM | Report abuse

I think what DCU needs is a good director of soccer operations that can be given a free hand by ownership, and a long-term commitment to Ben. I think the guy out in LA would be a good choice.

Posted by: Benadork | November 29, 2010 7:12 AM | Report abuse

'People think that if they avoid the truth,
it might change to something better before
they have to hear it.' Sadly, in the case of Payne, et al. & their PR hack Goff, they
do not have to answer to anyone!
It IS a YES-MAN's world. Payne himself MUST control DCU operations, including coaching management & character & psychology...
No professional, credentialed, experienced coach outside-the-DCU-cabal-of-fantasized-
deity would ever seriously consider joining-up with such a pack of fools.
Now, to top it off, Payne should add Lumpy Arena's do-nothing son as an assistant coach to Benny Boy.

Posted by: Lehoi | November 29, 2010 11:16 AM | Report abuse

Love Benny but don't have much hope for the future under current management. Payne and Kasper HAVE to go....

Posted by: lovinliberty | November 29, 2010 2:34 PM | Report abuse

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