Despite winning three of 34 MLS matches this season, D.C. United has decided to retain Coach Ben Olsen and General Manager Dave Kasper, the Insider has learned.
Club management reached the decision over the weekend following a month-long review and evaluation of the pair’s strategic plans to turn around the team after a 3-24-7 campaign, a source close to the situation said Monday.
United officials have been silent on the matter since the regular season ended five weeks ago, but behind the scenes, multiple sources said the club was almost certain to keep both figures. They are under contract through 2014.
Jason Levien, the managing partner who speaks on behalf of ownership, is in Italy finalizing a partnership between United and Inter Milan and did not return messages. (Erick Thohir, United’s Indonesian benefactor, owns a 70 percent share of Inter.)
Michael Williamson, United’s chief operating officer, said through a spokesman that he did not want to comment.
Olsen and Kasper have gone about their normal offseason business, making roster decisions, scouting NCAA matches and weighing options ahead of the drafts and winter signing period. As part of his coaching development, Olsen shadowed a Bundesliga coach in Germany a few weeks ago.
He and Kasper were part of United’s delegation that departed for Jakarta on Sunday for a week-long tour and two matches in Indonesia.
Olsen will enter his fourth full season at the helm, the longest tenure by a head coach in club history. One year after finishing with the third-most points in the league and a berth in the Eastern Conference finals, United set an MLS record for fewest victories this fall and ended the campaign on a 12-game winless skid. The only silver lining was the U.S. Open Cup championship, which earned a spot in international competition next year.
Olsen is liked by the players, and although tensions rose and cracks emerged amid the wretched season, he held the locker room together.
Kasper has had mixed results since his hiring in 2002, overseeing beneficial draft picks and trades but having a low success rate with international signings. This year, Rafael and Raphael Augusto (Brazil) and Marcos Sanchez (Panama) were dumped in mid-season and Carlos Ruiz (Guatemala) was a bust.
United won MLS Cup in 2004, the Supporters’ Shield in 2006 and ’07 and the Open Cup in 2008 and ’13. However, the club has missed the playoffs five of the past six years.
In retaining Kasper, management apparently took into account that he was working on his own for the first time since last fall’s departure of Kevin Payne, United’s longtime hands-on president.
The club has enormous financial flexibility in rebuilding the roster this winter.
Olsen and Kasper began clearing salary cap space as soon as the season ended, releasing Ruiz, 2011 MLS MVP Dwayne De Rosario, Lionard Pajoy and Marcelo Saragosa. Other roster decisions are pending. They also gained additional room with Brandon McDonald off the books. (United retained most of his salary when it traded him to Real Salt Lake in midseason.)
On top of the cap space, United will receive an estimated $350,000 in allocation funds from the league for missing the playoffs and qualifying for the CONCACAF Champions League. Allocation money can be applied toward signing or re-signing players without impacting the salary cap.
How United will use those funds remains unclear. The club sits atop the allocation order, giving it first crack at a U.S. national team player choosing to sign with MLS. United would have to agree to pay the terms of the contract arranged by the league. United also has the first pick this month in the two-stage re-entry draft — a mechanism to acquire veterans whose contract options were not exercised or are free agents — and the top selection in next month’s draft for college players and youth national team signings.
United will open the 2014 season March 8 against the Columbus Crew at RFK Stadium.