Throw in the Shanahans, John Wall and the overhaul of every pro sports organization and the grid has almost been completely reconfigured.
“It’s becoming a young town, isn’t it?” Ben Olsen said.
Well, yes and no.
See, in all the change, Benji never budged. Ben Olsen wouldn’t go away, remaining contemporary at 35, leading another team to another postseason in the best Washington fall sports story you possibly have not heard about because you are too busy erecting a Touchdown Threesus statue.
We tried to throw Olsen out, told maybe the most competitive athlete this town has known in almost any sport in years to stop playing before he hurts himself again. After multiple surgeries to his ankle and a run that included two championships and more locker room celebrations than he can remember, Olsen finally listened to his body and retired from D.C. United in 2009.
Three falls later, Coach Ben Olsen got United to believe in itself after Dwayne De Rosario, Major League Soccer’s most valuable player in 2011, went down to a season-ending knee injury on Sept. 11. United hasn’t lost in its six games since and hasn’t lost at RFK Stadium since its home opener in March.
Indeed, the Black-and-Red, headed to the playoffs for the first time in five years, is back — back because Ben Olsen never left.
“Did I think I’d still be relevant? Simple answer: no,” Olsen said Monday afternoon, two days after his mix of talented kids and veterans came back twice against Columbus at a sold-out RFK (the team caps its ticket sales at less than 20,000) to secure the franchise’s first playoff berth since 2007. “No way I even saw myself coaching this team in 2012.”
He began an expected painful transition from ex-player in 2010, helping former coach Curt Onalfo as an assistant. When Onalfo was fired in early August that year after just three wins in 18 games, Olsen was essentially asked by President Kevin Payne to take one for the team and become the interim guy, a tag that Payne made sure no one thought would be a precursor to the head job after Olsen finished the season 3-8-1.
“I don’t think he’s ready,” he told The Post’s Steven Goff at the time. “It’s been a great learning experience for Ben and I am sure he will learn a great deal over the next couple of years. I fully expect Ben will be our head coach someday.”
But that day came just a couple of months later, when Olsen somehow beat out seven candidates for the job. What changed?
“I over-played the fact that we wouldn’t consider him for a job,” Payne said by phone Monday afternoon. “I always thought he would be the head coach. What I didn’t want to do was give him the job too early. Ultimately, I decided he could be the guy, that after he learned the ropes for a season and went through some growing pains we could really have something here. And I think now we do.”