Ben Olsen discusses firing after lengthy tenure as D.C. United’s coach

“It was strange,” he said. “There will be a lot of strange moments in the next few months and years that I’m not used to.”

That’s because the 43-year-old Olsen has been an integral part of the field or sideline in 22 of United’s 24 seasons.

Despite being laid off, Olsen is expected to remain employed. A clause in his contract that expires in December 2021 grants him a front office position at a lower salary. The job title has not yet been defined. Talks will resume soon. In the meantime, Olsen welcomes the break.

“I have to find the balance to step back a little and decompress after 10 intense years,” he said. “But you know me: the wheels turn. I’m not one to sit on the beach and fish for a month. My brain doesn’t work like that. “

Since his release, he has withdrawn to his art studio for comfort and comfort in his family.

“They have been understaffed for the past decade so it’s important to give them the time and energy they need,” said Olsen of his wife, Megan, and their three children. “But life also goes on and I’m looking forward to the unknown.”

Olsen has been in a difficult period of an uninterrupted career at United since leaving the University of Virginia in December 1997.

“I’ve never had this emptiness in my life,” he said. “It’s a healthy fear, but there is also some excitement. In two months I could say that I miss the coaching and have to get involved again. “

After his release, Olsen received messages from dozens of colleagues, current and former players and friends. It helped him appreciate what he had been through for over a decade – the longest tenure as head coach in United history and the second-longest streak in MLS behind Peter Vermes of Sporting Kansas City.

“I’ve seen so many coaches over the years leave a team with such a bitter taste in their mouth,” said Olsen. “I knew that day was coming, and I prepared for it to make sure I didn’t go like this – that I leave with a real sense of pride in what I’ve done and grateful for the relationships I have built over 20 years. “

Repeating his written statement last week, Olsen said: “My time as a coach at the club had to end. I think the club has to move in a different direction and that’s a healthy thing for everyone.

“It is still difficult to come to this realization. Don’t get me wrong: letting go still hurts. But sometimes things that make sense for me and the club are not easy. “

United qualified to the playoffs five of the past six years but had not won a postseason game since 2015. When he was released, the team ran out of time at 2-9-5. (Under interim coach Chad Ashton, DC lost in Chicago and joined Philadelphia; the team will visit Cincinnati on Sunday.)

Olsen didn’t want to go into detail about what went wrong, but a wave of long-term injuries and a number of underperformance from multiple players have damaged the cause.

The economic fallout from the novel coronavirus pandemic also ended the team’s plans to sign at least two strikers this summer, said two people close to the situation.

United were already one of the most frugal funders in the MLS, and the recent tightening of the belt let Olsen get the most out of a depleted squad.

“I don’t think I’ve been a bad coach this year,” said Olsen. “I’m very confident about how I made it and trained. I have great confidence in our employees as we have prepared ourselves. Sometimes it’s not about that. Sometimes it’s just time. Of course, there are a number of reasons why a team is not successful. “

One fault lies with him.

“There are areas where I could have done better, but that’s the case every year if you don’t raise a trophy,” said Olsen. “There are decisions you could have made tactically, with staff and how to manage a player or two. Perhaps some decisions are magnified because of one thing or another. “

Olsen knew his job was in jeopardy when defeats piled up that fall. United’s only two wins came in March and early September.

“You never want to miss a season,” said Olsen when asked if he was surprised to be sacked before the end of the season. “If there is hope, maybe sometimes it is a reason to take a step that you think can energize the crew.”

Although his tenure didn’t end the way he would have liked, Olsen said he learned to appreciate holding the job for a decade, making him one of the longest-serving coaches in DC professional sport history.

“It’s a unique way to go from a player and coach for so long these days,” said Olsen. “It just doesn’t happen that often. I’m glad I was one of the rare ones to walk this path. Of course, I wish we’d had more success. “

DC United at Cincinnati FC

Records: United 2-10-6, 12 points; FCC 4-10-4, 16 points.

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