He has led United to the top of the East
It may be the closest that Ben Olsen gets to boasting about his success so far as an MLS coach.
When D.C. United loses Andy Najar to the Honduran Olympic team after Saturday's match against the Montreal Impact, Olsen knows his precocious teenage star will move onto a stage where he can showcase himself in hopes of landing a transfer to a big-named European club.
|United vs. Impact|
|When » Saturday, 7:30 p.m.|
|Where » RFK Stadium|
|TV » CSN|
But Olsen is quick to point out that the MLS side Najar is leaving behind is making waves of its own.
"There's a lot of people watching those games," Olsen said. "But we're in a spot where there are a lot of people watching D.C. United games."
Despite last weekend's 3-2 loss to New York, which snapped a four-game winning streak, D.C. United (9-5-3, 30 points) is still tied with the Red Bulls (9-4-3, 30 points) atop the Eastern Conference. At the midway point of the season, Olsen has a roster he's confident in and one that plays in a style that reflects his image, both hard-nosed and focused on attacking. Thanks to a combination of geography and results, Olsen will coach the MLS All-Stars against Chelsea in Philadelphia on July 28.
The only tradeoff is that Olsen still looks tortured by a job that involves far more painstaking hours than those required as a player. It's also affected relationships with former teammates, such as Jaime Moreno, Clyde Simms, Santino Quaranta and Brandon Barklage, who was ecstatic to score twice last weekend on the team that told him he wasn't good enough to keep around last winter.
"One day you're playing, and the next day you kind of have to separate yourself from the players," United midfielder Stephen King said. "You're still friends, but you still have to maintain your authority and your distance. I think he's handled it very well, and I think moving forward he's only going to get better."
Olsen's determination to put the club's interests first made an immediate impression.
"I thought he's done a fantastic job," United midfielder Dwayne De Rosario said. "I didn't expect that when I came in. I thought was going to be more loosey-goosey when I first came here, but he was business. He was very straightforward, and I admire that."
Olsen's also been intimately involved with the makeup of the roster. As practice ended Wednesday, he took part in a lengthy chat with United president Kevin Payne and general manager Dave Kasper. But even on the day that the summer international transfer window opened, Olsen was focused on the immediate when asked about the nature of the conversation.
"You know my team right now, and we just lost a game so we're looking for a response against Montreal," Olsen said. "We've been pretty good at that, responding after tough times so hopefully we'll be in a position to do that."