… Here ya go club legend Ben Olsen … here is what you have always been waiting for. Here is your chance to run a big-time Major League Soccer club with lots of tradition and shiny trophies and big banners and … 3 wins.
Come on down, Ben Olsen!! You’ve won an MLS head coaching gig!!! Let’s see what you’ve won …
Enjoy! And remember, once you buy a prize, it’s yours to keep.
OK, so I’m mixing my game shows, but whatever.
Ben Olsen is in fact the new interim head coach at DC United, as the powers that be fired Curt Onalfo this morning. Onalfo leaves with a 3-12-3 record, giving United a league-worst 12 points on the season. It’s never good when the league’s most decorated team has fewer points than a first-year expansion team, but DC is looking up at Philadelphia (and everyone else) in the standings right now. United scored just 12 goals in 18 games, and has allowed a league-worst 31. Actually, the 12 goals scored is a league-worst, too, but I wasn’t sure how many times you wanted to see “league-worst” in the same paragraph.
What? That’s the fourth time? Oh. Sorry.
Olsen is in a really bad spot here. Perhaps United’s most beloved player of all time, he finally listened to his ankles and moved to the sidelines after his long playing career was over. It wasn’t expected that as an assistant this year, he’d be very visible. But with Onalfo gone, Olsen now steps into the spotlight of a situation where injuries, suspect player acquisition, and the uncertainty of the club’s future plans off the field all combine to make the position of DC United Head Coach not nearly as enviable as it once might have been.
Some might make the comparison to the Red Bulls putting Richie Williams in as an interim coach last year, where New York were 2-16-4 before Williams took over, 3-3-2 after. But the Red Bulls exited that season knowing they were going to have a new stadium, and it appears based on what we’ve seen with the signings of Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez, the club knew it was going to be making big name signings (these things don’t happen overnight). No matter what Williams did, the organization had legitimate reason to believe that better days on the horizon.
Now, with Williams back to an assistant’s role for 2010, the Red Bulls are in second place in the East, a mere 15 points clear of flounding United.
United doesn’t have those reasons for optimism that the Red Bulls did. There have been glimmers of quality from new signings Branko Boskovic and Pablo Hernandez, and the team has an emerging star in young Andy Najar – but many acquisitions in the last 2-3 years haven’t worked out – quite of few of whom aren’t even around anymore. There is no certainty about a future home here, or whether the club will even remain in the area much beyond this season or next, unless a stadium deal suddenly appears on the horizon.
It’s a very fair question to wonder just how much changing coaches at this point is really going to matter. It doesn’t change the way the club identifies players and signs them, and it doesn’t change the organizational philosophy going forward. Though just in firing a coach mid-season, United have already taken one step to break away from its past traditions. Even Thomas Rongen, Ray Hudson, and Tom Soehn got to see out their final years.
United fans will root on Olsen like crazy. He was that popular, and we all want to see him do well. Some probably hoped he’d be in this position some day – but I’m not sure this was the situation they had envisioned. It’d be a shame to see Olsen finish the season something like 2-7-3 because he just doesn’t have much healthy talent to work with, and then never get another chance. Williams has had two chances as the interim Red Bulls coach, but hasn’t gotten the call for a top job yet (it should be noted, he’s gone 4-6-4 in 14 games as head coach).
If he wins, of course, Olsen will be a hero. For him, I really hope that’s the case. But deep down, I’ll be stunned if this one move turns around a club that has problems far more reaching than who is calling the shots from the touchline.
Good luck Benny, we’re all counting on you.