D.C. United Coach Ben Olsen met with reporters — in the referees’ locker room, of all places — at RFK Stadium after Thursday’s training session.
With a quick turnaround after the U.S. Open Cup final Tuesday two time zones away, how will you approach Friday’s league match at home against the Chicago Fire?
“We are still piecing it together. A lot of energy was expended with some of these guys and they are banged up but we also want to continue with trying to put the best team out there, balancing that with getting some guys looks that need to get looks for next season.”
Can you sense the emotional lift Tuesday’s game provided heading back into league play?
“We would like to continue with the energy that is in the building right now. You combine that with the hangover, if you will, of winning a big game, trying to balance that with tomorrow, it’s going to be interesting. I hope the guys who do get opportunities understand we are still in last place and they are still playing for jobs and opportunities next year. That part has not changed.”
With the Open Cup accomplishment, what is the feeling overall?
“It’s tough to get the smiles off the guys — that’s a good thing but it’s also a little challenge when you are trying to go after a game tomorrow, which we are taking very seriously. There is a sense of relief. There is a sense of joy. It’s a better year than last year. Somehow, ironically. We didn’t have a trophy last year; we didn’t get one. Last time I checked, that is what this is about — winning trophies. We found a way to get one this year. I am under no illusions who we are and what we need to do going forward, that we need to get better and improve this group. But we got a championship this year. We didn’t get one last year, so it’s important they understand this is a great accomplishment for this club.”
The Open Cup aside, there are things to address. You didn’t win a championship last year but it was a better overall campaign …
“We had things to address after last year too — a lot. A lot went down in the offseason that we were scrambling to address. Do we have more to address from a team standpoint this year? Absolutely. But we didn’t win anything last year. We won something this year. And that is real. However you slice it, this is why we play the game. This is why I coach, this is why these players come to work every day and fight. It’s to hold a trophy, and they did that. I am not going to let people take that away from this club right now.”
That said: “I am under no illusions we have been a great team.”
Down the stretch, you will face teams vying for playoff spots. Aside from wanting to win for your own sake, do you see your club playing the spoiler?
“I hope so. It’s a great opportunity and a challenge for some of our young guys because there is this high. We have never done well — some of the guys at this club — with dealing with the good times. We turn it down. Maybe last year after that high, we turned it down this year. After consecutive wins, that has always been tough in the last four or five years. It’s that mentality of bringing it every day. We know we can bring it on any given day, but can you sustain that concentration and commitment that we need? Now we have this huge high. How do we respond? That is what we are preaching right now and we’ll see which guys understand this is what it’s about. You can celebrate it and be excited but you’ve still got to get on the field and do the business.”