Wednesday, December 1, 2010

DC United Taps Olsen

In one of the most surprising developments in American professional soccer recently, this past weekend DC United formally named interim coach and former United standout Ben Olsen, as the team's newest head coach.  This is now the seventh head coach in the history of DC United and, more tellingly, United's third head coach in less than a full calendar year.  Ben Olsen now becomes the youngest head coach in the history of Major League Soccer.

I didn't think that Olsen was ready for the job and I have said as much in previous posts.  He is without a doubt a real fan favorite, and he is clearly popular with the team; but he was thrust into the role of being the caretaker of a train wreck season that was not of his own making, and that is trying even for experienced coaches, much less a rookie coach.  More to the point, over the last several months DC United President Kevin Payne has stated on many occassions, that Olsen was just the interim coach and that he was not ready for the job.

So... what changed?  First, negotiations with coach Lucien Favre, the former boss of Hertha Berlin in the Budesliga, completely broke down.  Then negotiations with coach Caleb Porter from the University of Akron also broke down... and suddenly, United was without a leading candidate.  As the team has continued to search for a new head coach, all the liabilities that currently plague the franchise kicked in to sour interest from potential candidates:  no stadium deal in the works, no franchise player now that Moreno has retired; no clear committment on the team's part to spend the money to turn this around; and a recent history of expensive trades that have failed to produce on the field.  Given all these negatives, its no surprise that United had a hard time finding a world-class coach who was interested.

And that is truly pitiful, because there was a time, not so long ago, when almost ANY American soccer coach, and a great many European coaches as well, would have lept at a chance to coach DC United, the most successful soccer franchise in North America.  Oh, how the mighty have fallen. 

And so... Ben Olsen gets the job by default.  The team has publicly made the right noises about how he was the best choice, how he knows DC United better than any outsider, how the players like and respect him, etc. and so forth.  All true, I suppose.

But this much is clear: Olsen has a HUGE task ahead of him, trying to turn this team around.  Without a stadium deal, without a franchise player, without a fat budget for talent acquisition, and working for a team ownership and front office that is proving itself to be rather inept at managing a sports franchise.

And THAT is the real problem here.  Good luck to Ben Olsen.  I like him, and if he succeeds I'll happily eat my words.  But what I really think, is that the people running the franchise, are not football people-- William Chang is a successful venture capitalist with a proven eye for funding promising new tech companies, but I do not think either that or his Harvard education, necessarily prepares him to oversee a football operation.  It makes me pine for the days when the franchise was run by the Anschutz Entertainment Group.  At least we were winning when Anschutz ran the franchise.

Anyway, maybe I'm wrong about the inept front office too; but if so, someone please prove me wrong by winning

So, Good Luck coach... I've had my doubts, but now that you have the job, I'll be pulling for you.  And since all the fans really do like you, you'll probably get the benefit of the doubt if things go south next season.  But lets hope that it does not come to that.