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Ben Olsen resigns as Spirit president after less than a year in role

Ben Olsen, a former D.C. United star player, coached the MLS club for more than 10 years before joining the Spirit organization. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)
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Ben Olsen, the former D.C. United player and coach who helped steer the Washington Spirit through turbulent times and to the National Women’s Soccer League championship last season, stepped down as the club’s president Monday.

“The last eight months have been a challenging but very rewarding time for all of us at the Spirit,” Olsen said in a statement issued by the team. “It’s been an honor to help steady the organization and contribute to bringing another championship to the city I love.”

No reason for Olsen’s departure was disclosed. Olsen and Y. Michele Kang, the new majority owner, seemed to have built a good working relationship. But according to people close to the situation, Kang wanted to install her own team president — Olsen was hired by her predecessor, Steve Baldwin — and offered Olsen a position overseeing soccer operations. Olsen instead chose to step down.

“Ben steered us through a tumultuous period and righted the ship,” Kang said in a statement. “Ben’s expertise and character allowed our players to keep their focus on the field and our staff members to keep their eyes on the road ahead. Over the last few months, he has played an instrumental role in the transition period leading up to the start of the regular season. We will all miss working with him.”

Olsen was appointed to the post in September, less than a year removed from coaching United. At the time, the Spirit was ensnarled in turmoil, which included a coaching change, accusations of unprofessional behavior by team executives, a league investigation and an ownership feud between Baldwin and Kang.

Olsen also was the Spirit’s de facto general manager, working closely with Coach Kris Ward on re-signing players, overseeing the draft and retaining most of the roster this offseason.

In October, after Baldwin announced he would step down as CEO and controlling owner, the Spirit’s players released a statement criticizing him for, among other things, hiring Olsen, who they said had “virtually no experience in the role you left to him.”

Spirit star Ashley Sanchez continues rapid ascent as NWSL season begins

Yet Olsen seemed to win over the players. In a statement Monday, captain Andi Sullivan said: “Ben joined us at possibly our worst time and under difficult circumstances. He boldly embraced that and ultimately helped us win our first NWSL championship. I hope we can stay connected to him in whatever he does next.”

The Spirit is unbeaten in 19 straight competitive matches since August. (There were two forfeits for violations of league coronavirus protocols.) The streak started with Ward’s debut as interim coach, and he received the permanent job during the offseason.

“This Washington Spirit team is the greatest women’s soccer team this country’s ever seen,” Olsen said. “I’m excited to see the team continue to grow under Michele’s leadership.”

Washington, which defeated Seattle’s OL Reign in Sunday’s regular season opener, will face the Reign again Wednesday at Audi Field in the NWSL Challenge Cup semifinals.

This story has been updated with the official announcement.