By adding role as assistant, veteran provides keen insight
It has been easy to mistake Josh Wolff more for a coach than player this season. Technically, he's both after D.C. United moved some of his salary for cap reasons at the start of the season. Being 35 and in the twilight of his playing career played a role, too.
The extra title helps explain how Wolff often finishes practice huddled with D.C. United coach Ben Olsen and the team's technical staff. Occasionally, he has taken advantage of the coaches' golf cart for the ride back to RFK Stadium from the training field rather than walking with his teammates.
"It's a strange balance," Wolff said. "I'm trying to figure out how to work it, but I love the game. I love watching games. I love trying to incorporate myself within the group playing and as a voice."
|Union at D.C. United|
|U.S. Open Cup fourth round|
|When » Tuesday, 7:30 p.m.|
|Where » Maryland SoccerPlex|
Fully healthy after a slow start to the year, United's oldest player logged his first 90-minute game of the season in a 3-1 win over Toronto on May 19. Last week, he played a brutal 120 minutes in D.C. United's 2-1 overtime victory at Richmond in the U.S. Open Cup.
In both long stints, Wolff displayed the refinements of his game at this stage of his career. He always has preferred to play as a withdrawn second striker. But whereas he once was known as one of the fastest players on the U.S. national team, his best work against the Kickers was of the gritty variety in the midfield with his back to goal. Wolff fought to win loose balls and turned to spring his teammates forward with incisive passes. After a tactical adjustment against Toronto, he played out wide, where he made his living during one season in Germany.
"I think the experience and the knowledge goes a long way in the game," said Wolff, who had five goals and seven assists last year for United. "I think obviously as you get older, certain things come and go. The speed maybe coming down a little bit, but what you grab in tactics and awareness on the field is on the increase. I'm excited to be on the field, period."
Olsen has relished the chance to get Wolff involved. The post-practice chat sessions are also two-way conversations, with Wolff gleaning what he can and Olsen leaning on his close friend for insight as well.
"Because he's been hurt and now he's in the coaching role, people start to forget about what a good player Wolffy is and how he's probably one of the smartest players on the team," Olsen said.
Both Wolff and Olsen have a relationship with Union coach Peter Nowak, who is under fire with his team winless in its last five MLS games and his roster constantly turning over. Last year United defeated Philadelphia 4-2 in penalty kicks after a 2-2 draw at the Maryland SoccerPlex in a U.S. Open Cup qualifying match.
"Both teams will play as good a lineup as they think they have," Olsen said. "That's exciting."