D.C. United will not consider interim coach Ben Olsen for full-time position

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 25, 2010; 11:32 PM

D.C. United interim coach Ben Olsen will not be considered for the full-time position because of his inexperience, club president Kevin Payne said Monday.

"I don't think he is ready," Payne said. "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."

Olsen, who retired as a player last winter and became an assistant coach, was asked to oversee the club after Curt Onalfo's dismissal in August. Initially reluctant to accept the position, Olsen grew more confident in the role and began expressing the desire to remain in charge.

Although Payne said from the outset that Olsen was too inexperienced to be considered beyond this year, Olsen said he had "hoped he would change his mind.

"I am a competitive guy, and when you get to sit in the big office, you want to stay in it."

Olsen had a 3-8-1 record during United's worst campaign in its 15-season history (6-20-4).

"I believe I can do this job and be successful," he said. "Kevin knows I wanted it, but I understand the reasoning. I'm completely okay with it."

Payne said that United has had substantial conversations with four candidates, including two from overseas, and that he plans to talk with others employed by MLS teams upon the completion of their playoff runs.

He declined to identify candidates, but did say that one of the foreign options has extensive experience as a head coach.

The team hopes to finalize the hiring within six weeks.

Olsen, a D.C. midfielder for 12 years and a fan favorite, plans to return as an assistant unless, he said, the new coach wants to hire his own staff. Payne, however, said that each of the four current candidates has agreed to retain Olsen.

The status of assistant Kris Kelderman and goalkeepers coach Mark Simpson remains unclear. Chad Ashton will return to his post as the club's technical director after helping Olsen with daily responsibilities.

Payne remains high on Olsen's future, saying: "He's thoughtful, he looks for reasons why, he understands the mentality of the players, he has a fierce will to win and a competitive streak. But it takes time to understand how to manage a group through a long season. Some of it is technical knowledge, teaching them how to play."

Payne was also grateful to Olsen for inheriting a messy situation: "He stepped right in front of the moving train for us."

However, "I was very honest then that I wasn't going to let any kind of controversy start over this, and I really didn't think it was best for his professional development to be thrust into the full-time job right away."

Said Olsen: "He was nothing but honest from the beginning, and he is acting in a way that he thinks is in the best interests of both me and the club."

Despite his insistence on hiring an experienced coach, Payne said he wouldn't rule out a veteran assistant or someone with a broad background in the sport.

Top MLS assistants include Real Salt Lake's Robin Fraser (who has never been a head coach) and Los Angeles' Dave Sarachan, a former United assistant who guided the Chicago Fire for several years.

"I do want guys who have a sense of their own coaching philosophy, which has been developed over some period of time," Payne said.

Last offseason, after Tom Soehn stepped aside, United tried to hire a young college coach, Akron's Caleb Porter. When he withdrew from consideration late in negotiations, Onalfo, a former U.S. national team assistant and Kansas City head coach, was hired.

Besides experience, Payne said he would target someone who subscribes to United's playing philosophy: ball possession, pressure and attacking.

"Obviously, we didn't do that very well this year - the whole season got away from us - but we want to get back to playing our style of soccer," he said.

Meantime, despite the club missing the playoffs for the third consecutive year, General Manager Dave Kasper will remain in his post, Payne said.

Several roster moves are expected this winter. Captain Jaime Moreno is leaving and defender Juan Manuel Pena and forward Danny Allsopp won't return.

"We need to make some pretty significant changes," said Payne, whose club set the MLS record for scoreless performances (17) and scoring futility (21 goals). "One of the only silver linings in this disastrous year is that a lot of young guys have gotten a lot of playing time. Certainly, there is a lot to build on. We have some obvious needs and some big question marks."

The top priorities, he and Kasper said, are a bonafide striker, an experienced central defender and perhaps a central midfielder. The club does not plan to pursue a big-ticket foreign player, such as David Beckham or Thierry Henry, unless it is able to attract new investors to join owner Will Chang.

United notes: Midfielder Clyde Simms will undergo sports hernia surgery in Germany this week. . . .

United will have the No. 3 pick, behind expansion Vancouver and Portland, in the first round of the MLS draft Jan. 13 in Baltimore.

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