D.C. United hires Ben Olsen as head coach

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 28, 2010; 11:59 PM

After insisting for months that Ben Olsen did not have enough experience to be considered for its head coaching job, D.C. United has hired the former midfielder and interim coach to run the MLS club, several sources said Sunday.

At 33, Olsen will become the youngest full-time head coach in league history. He served in an interim capacity for 12 matches this season after Curt Onalfo was fired eight months into his term.

United has scheduled a news conference Monday at RFK Stadium to introduce "the club's new head coach," a team spokesman said, declining to elaborate.

Club officials didn't respond to interview requests and neither Olsen nor his agent, Dan Segal, returned messages.

From the start of Olsen's tenure in early August, United President Kevin Payne said repeatedly that Olsen would not be considered for the full-time role. But after interviewing at least seven candidates, including former German Bundesliga coach Lucien Favre, the club began to contemplate hiring Olsen.

Favre, a native of Switzerland who guided Hertha Berlin for two-plus seasons before being dismissed in September 2009, appeared to be the favorite. He was in Washington early this month to meet with Payne and General Manager Dave Kasper and observe offseason training sessions.

Most of the candidates, however, were based in the United States, Payne said. It's unclear whether United again approached University of Akron Coach Caleb Porter, a rising star in the college ranks. Last year, Porter and United were in the late stages of negotiations when Porter re-signed with the Zips.

United did not want to repeat that drawn-out process, one that stalled offseason preparations and left the club without a coach until Onalfo's hiring in late December.

Olsen, a former University of Virginia star and a fan favorite during his 12 years with United, retired last winter and was subsequently named to Onalfo's staff. In August, with United's record at 3-12-3, Onalfo was fired and Olsen appointed.

Initially reluctant to take the role, Olsen became more comfortable and began to express interest in the long-term job. Despite a 3-8-1 record in league play, Olsen received praise from the players for his communication and motivational skills.

Two days after the worst season in United's 14-year history ended, however, Payne repeated what he had been saying for months: Olsen didn't have enough experience and tactical sophistication to oversee a pro operation.

"I don't think he's ready," Payne said at the time. "I really believe Ben is going to be a very good coach someday. I just think his brain works the way your brain needs to work to be successful. . . . 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.

"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."

Financial issues might have also come into play. Onalfo signed a three-year guaranteed contract and will remain on the payroll for two additional seasons. Although the club never disclosed his salary, MLS observers believe his deal was worth $300,000 annually. With that strain on the budget, United might not have been able to afford Favre or any other high-profile international candidate.

Furthermore, owner Will Chang has been seeking secondary investors and, while most MLS clubs have moved into new stadiums to enhance revenue, United has not found an alternative to antiquated RFK Stadium.

The organization has also decided to shake up the support staff. Goalkeepers coach Mark Simpson will not return and Tim Mulqueen, who has worked with U.S. youth national teams for many years, is the front-runner to fill the job, a source said.

Simpson couldn't be reached to comment, but one team source said the former United keeper has been pursuing other opportunities.

The other assistant, Kris Kelderman, has a guaranteed contract in 2011 and seems likely to remain on the staff.

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