D.C. United Coach Ben Olsen returned to Washington on Sunday night after shadowing Borussia Moenchengladbach boss Lucien Favre for a week. (Interestingly, Favre was among United’s coaching candidates in 2010 before Olsen was upgraded from interim status to the long-term job.)
Olsen sat down for a conversation at RFK Stadium on Wednesday morning …
What was the purpose of the trip to Germany?
“Favre is a guy I have kept in touch with and I’ve called about players over there in the past. I have always liked the way he has thought about the game and it was a good chance for me to shadow him. It was a very worthwhile trip. I watched trainings and had some one-on-one time with him, went to their game against Nurnberg, talked afterward about the game. There is very little time to further your education as a young coach when you jump right into the job. It’s important for me to find time to continue growing as a young coach.”
While over there, were you also scouting potential acquisitions …
“That always plays into this stuff. Any time you are in a different soccer market, your brain switches into that world, but mostly it was about me getting another look at the game and a different coach who has been doing this a long time [20+ years].”
Is anyone on your staff scouting in Europe now?
“No. Everyone is busy following the college games and evaluating our league for the re-entry drafts [next month]. There is no shortage of things to do right now to prepare for next year.” (Scouting coordinator Kurt Morsink has gone on undisclosed missions this fall.)
What are your thoughts and emotions on captain Dwayne De Rosario’s departure?
“I have an enormous amount of respect for the guy. He made me a better coach. He helped on the field, of course, but he challenged me and helped me grow as a coach. I will be indebted for that, but it was time to move on. It’s never easy, especially with a guy who is so talented and can still contribute. He will go somewhere and contribute to a team in a big way. For us, it was just time to turn the page. I am not going to get into the reasons. They will stay with us as a club. Dwayne and I, I think, had a pretty good relationship and he put in some memorable performances wearing our colors, but it was time to look toward the future.”
Presumably, since you are making roster decisions and traveling, there are no lingering questions about whether you will return next season. Have you had any definitive conversations with upper management on that front?
“That is something you need to ask them. I am here today to work and prepare for next year. Nothing has changed.”
There has already been a lot of coaching movement around the league, but after a 3-24-7 season, you seem safe. Why do you think you are retaining your job?
“I can’t concern myself with all of the other changes in MLS. I see it. It’s the nature of the business. You are hired to be fired in this gig. Do I have a lifeline because of who I am at this club as a player? Is that what you are asking? I don’t know. That is not a question for me. I hope it’s because they have faith in me and they trust I can turn this around and coach this team to success. I hope that is why I am still here. I believe that.
“We had a very bad year. We found a way to win a [U.S. Open Cup] championship out of that bad year, but nonetheless, it was a disaster from a league standpoint. It was a disastrous performance in our league, and there were a whole bunch of reasons for that. There is an understanding within our group about some of the reasons and we are committing to fixing those in the short term.”
Looking ahead to having the No. 1 pick at the college draft in mid-January in Philadelphia, how far along are you in evaluating players?
“There are going to be four or five guys to choose from. We’ve got a good support system here [evaluation options] as we get closer.”
Maybe a few D.C. United reps at the ACC semifinals and final this weekend at Maryland SoccerPlex?
“You might see a few familiar faces up there. Everybody [from MLS clubs] will be there.”
With the top pick on several MLS acquisition platforms, there must be pressure to get this right. It isn’t like having the No. 6 or 7 pick and being able to take a chance on a guy who may or may not have what it takes …
“I think we have a very good strategy going forward. I would rather be in our position than rolling the dice at No. 6 or 7.”
What’s your strategy?
“You ain’t getting it! Look, we’ll be okay. We’ve had a good amount of time to think and prepare, but in the end, you have to wait to see who is available. My focus right now is our offseason and making sure the guys who are here are committed to getting strong and doing what they can so we can come into camp [in late January] ready to go and hungry.”
Will many players head overseas on short training spells this winter?
“Not a lot. Very few. Most guys are going to stay here and work with our physical preparation coach and make sure we are doing everything we can to set ourselves up for success early in the season. We have to make sure we are physically ready, fit and strong, so we don’t have another year of injuries. I don’t think we did a good enough job last offseason and in the preseason. It can’t hurt to work on some of the physical deficiencies. They need to focus on it. This is the time to do that. Once the season hits, it’s very tough to catch up — it’s more about maintaining your strength and preventing injuries. Now is the time to get more durable.”
So the difference between last offseason and this offseason is …
“One thing is the timeframe because we played deep into the playoffs last year. There were a lot of guys banged up after the year. They needed time off. Bottom line: We need to do better with our offseason and making sure they come in at the parameters that our physical preparation coach has given them.”
Chris Pontius and Daniel Woolard, who are recovering from recent surgery, will not travel to Indonesia in a few weeks for the club’s tour. De Rosario, Lionard Pajoy, Marcelo Saragosa, Carlos Ruiz and Syamsir Alam were released. Will everyone else go to Asia?
“We’re figuring out those numbers now. We have had some surgeries. We have some guys with prior engagements. We’ll definitely have to get a little creative, whether it’s a guest player or two or an academy player.”
Pontius has had several injuries during his career. Do you worry about him staying healthy over the long term?
“He doesn’t have the best track record, that’s for sure. One thing led to another with a lot of his stuff. The other hamstring is fixed and feels good. This one had the same thing. We are hoping, by fixing this one, both are good and help him get into a steady rhythm and no longer affect other areas. He is certainly committed this offseason to recover from this and be ready for opening day” in early March. (Pontius will need six to eight weeks for recovery.)
Woolard’s toe was bad enough that it required surgery?
“Daniel struggled with it all year. He is a tough guy and didn’t talk about it a lot.” (Woolard is out four to six weeks.)
What is defender Dennis Iapichino’s roster status after joining the club late in the season?
“He is back in Europe for now. Nothing has been determined. He is still in a gray area.”
(The club has yet to decide whether to exercise options on several player contracts.)
Homegrown forward Michael Seaton, 17, has been called up by Jamaica’s senior national team for the first time. The Reggae Boyz will play Trinidad & Tobago on Friday in Montego Bay and next Tuesday in Port of Spain. Seaton is a Jamaican and U.S. citizen and has appeared at under-17 camps for both countries but played for Jamaica at the CONCACAF U-17 tournament.
Other United players on international duty: Goalkeeper Bill Hamid is with the U.S. squad for friendlies at Scotland on Friday and Austria next Tuesday, and midfielder Kyle Porter joined Canada for games at the Czech Republic on Friday and Slovenia on Tuesday.