During the final stage of training camp in Charleston, S.C., D.C. United Coach Ben Olsen asked veteran forward Josh Wolff if he would be interested in joining the staff.
Olsen wasn’t suggesting Wolff, 35, should retire. Rather, he wanted him to become a player/assistant.
“He was a player-coach anyway,” Olsen said of his 2006 World Cup teammate. “He is an unbelievably bright soccer mind and he’s a real student of it. ... He has a good presence with the guys. It was logical.”
Peering ahead to his post-playing days, Wolff welcomed the offer. The arrangement was announced last Friday, on the eve of United’s season-opening loss to Sporting Kansas City at RFK Stadium.
In an interview Tuesday, Wolff emphasized he is a “player-coach. I’m going to try to stay a player as long as I can.”
Wolff said it’s too early to decide whether he will retire after this season.
“I don’t think that decision is made at all,” he said. “And that’s the first thing Benny said: ‘Look, you just play the game as you play the game and we’ll deal with next year next year.’
“It’s a new role, but it’s nothing too different except maybe I will be in a little more of the film-watching and planning.”
Wolff’s hybrid position does help United manage the payroll. His total compensation will remain about the same as agreed upon in the offseason, but his playing contract will have a smaller impact on the cap. No details were released.
Wolff isn’t the first player/coach in MLS. Hristo Stoitchkov served dual roles for United in 2003. Last year Gregg Berhalter did the same for the Los Angeles Galaxy and Pat Onstad, United’s goalkeeping boss, briefly came out of retirement while maintaining his coaching duties early in the season. (Berhalter is now the head coach of Swedish club Hammarby.)
Wolff, by no means, is out of the loop for playing time. But with the arrival of Hamdi Salihi and Maicon Santos and 2011 league MVP Dwayne De Rosario seeing more time up front, Wolff will not play as often as he did last year (23 starts, five goals, seven assists).
In the opener, he was a 66th-minute replacement for Branko Boskovic and featured in central midfield in an effort to boost United’s lacking possession game.
Wolff has played in MLS since 1998, except for one season with 1860 Munich. National team service included 52 caps, nine goals and two World Cups.
On his growing responsibilities, “As you get older, you have a different take on the game. It’s about helping guys learn things and maybe see things a little differently than the way the coaches do. I’ve always tried to have a bit of a voice in there and appreciate what the coaches do, but being a link between them and the guys is important.”
Olsen sees coaching in Wolff’s future.
“I thought [this role] would give him a real inside look before he chooses” a coaching path, he said.
Olsen being Olsen, he couldn’t resist adding a punchline.
“I certainly would’ve liked that look [before entering the coaching ranks as a full-time assistant in 2010]. I might be in Hawaii right now on a beach working at a pool bar.”