Coach Ben Olsen pulling double duty as D.C. United prepares for Houston Dynamo
By Steven Goff,
Before finalizing the roster, Ben Olsen evaluated personnel and sought feedback from his assistants. He monitored injuries, weighed game tactics and tried to balance the needs of the players and the club.
And when he was done sorting out that team, he turned his attention to another.
Olsen had dual roles this past week: First and foremost, he primed D.C. United for Sunday evening’s away match against the Houston Dynamo. But as caretaker of an MLS all-star team that will face European champion Chelsea on July 25, he also helped fill out the league roster.
MLS will announce the 18-man list on ESPN about four hours before the United-Dynamo’s 9 p.m. kickoff. Eleven players, previously announced, were voted onto the team by fans. Although Olsen is under no obligation to name all 11, he said he would (barring scheduling conflicts or injuries).
Commissioner Don Garber will make two special selections. And Olsen is responsible for the last five, including a goalkeeper.
Because the all-star game features a league squad against a foreign team — instead of two conference squads squaring off — the few available slots will come under greater scrutiny.
“The all-star coach is always in a no-win situation, whether you play a guy too long in the actual game or don’t pick someone for it,” Olsen said with a laugh of resignation, knowing the selections will elicit criticism.
“I have gotten a lot of phone calls from agents and coaches. I have been warned about this process. Ultimately, it’s an impossible task to please everyone.”
Aside from Olsen and his assistants, Dwayne De Rosario will represent United at PPL Park in Chester, Pa. Chris Pontius, the club’s top scorer with nine goals, is a prime candidate for selection by Olsen or Garber.
Describing his multi-team balancing act, Olsen said: “Mostly it’s been after-hours stuff [working on the all-star task]. Houston has been in the forefront of our minds. There are obviously some things I have to deal with on the all-star front, but it hasn’t taken up too much time.”
Which is fine with Olsen, whose team is bracing for nine regular season matches and a friendly against French club Paris Saint-Germain in a seven-week span. United played just three league games and two U.S. Open Cup matches the previous seven weeks.
During the recent lull, Olsen gave the players four consecutive days off. Pontius visited family in California. Others retreated from stormy Washington. De Rosario stuck around with his wife and four children, despite being without power at his Bethesda home for seven days.
Upon regrouping, Olsen emphasized high-intensity workouts in an effort to reset the energy and rhythm that had fueled five victories in six regular season matches.
“We haven’t played in a couple of weeks, but we’ve done all the right things,” midfielder Perry Kitchen said. “We got a little break, we recharged, we’ve trained hard to get the fitness up and, at this point, we are set to perform.”
Aside from seeking three points on the road, United (10-5-3) is aiming to win in Houston for the first time. Since moving to Texas from San Jose in 2006, the Dynamo is 7-0-1 at home against United in all competitions and boasts a 14-4 scoring advantage.
Additionally, the Dynamo (6-5-7) has conceded just one goal in the past three games after yielding seven in the previous two matches. Geoff Cameron, a U.S. national team defender, is awaiting a possible transfer to Stoke City in England’s Premier League but might play Sunday.
The teams split the first two meetings, with United winning 3-2 in April at RFK Stadium and the Dynamo claiming a 1-0 victory in its BBVA Compass Stadium debut in May.
United notes: Midfielder Andy Najar is with the Honduras under-23 national team preparing for the Olympics and won’t return until early August. . . . Defender Ethan White and newly acquired forward Long Tan played 90 minutes apiece Friday while on loan to the third-division Richmond Kickers. Goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra reported to the third-tier Charleston Battery for a Saturday night game.