D.C. United Coach Ben Olsen sitting on a ‘scalding-hot seat’
Failure to move forward will almost end his tenure after more than 10 years, the organization said last week. And crossing the playoff threshold might not be enough to save his job either. He would likely have to win at least one game, said the people speaking on condition of anonymity.
“Ben is not in the hot seat,” said one person. “He’s in a hot seat.”
Team officials, including managing director and co-chair Jason Levien, said they didn’t want to speculate on coaching and roster decisions. Levien and his co-chair Stephen Kaplan would have the final say on Olsen’s future.
Olsen and team officials said their focus is on the key players returning from injury and reversing the direction of the team with 10 games remaining, starting Sunday night against the New England Revolution (4-3-6, 18 points) at Audi Field.
When asked whether he had discussed a specific goal with his superiors, Olsen said: “The expectations are no different from last year or the year before. It’s about getting into the postseason and tackling this thing. It’s pretty easy. “
With 10 out of 14 teams in the Eastern Conference qualifying for the playoffs, DC is three points from last place and six from sixth place.
“This is the MLS, man,” said Olsen. “You are three wins away from being in the playoffs and feeling really good. So the 10 games are forever. Make no mistake: our urgency must now be very, very high. There are a lot of points out there. “
However, the management seems to be losing patience. Wednesday’s 1-0 loss at Extension Nashville SC was arguably the team’s worst performance in a bad year. “Not observable,” said a front office official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
After the game, Olsen waved his starters and called them “a lot of cheating” in an aimless first half. “It looked like we were still with Sun Country Airlines or whatever we flew in here.”
Goalkeeper Bill Hamid said on Friday: “We’ll see the reaction on Sunday. This is the biggest tell-tale sign of how people are reacting to what the manager has said in the media. “
The 43-year-old Olsen is under contract until the 2021 season. A clause allows him to stay with the organization in a different role at a lower salary in the event management decides to make a coaching switch before the contract expires.
Olsen’s connection with United dates back to 1998 when he left the University of Virginia a year earlier to sign with MLS. Handicapped by ankle injuries, he retired after the 2009 season and became an assistant coach. At the end of 2010, Olsen was appointed interim trainer. In this off-season he got the permanent appearance at the age of 33.
He has worked under tight budget constraints for many years and has a regular season record of 113-134-84. United qualified for the playoffs six of the last eight years, but have not won a postseason game since 2015 and last appeared in the conference finals in 2012.
Olsen is second in MLS coaching age behind Peter Vermes (11th year) from Sporting Kansas City. No previous DC trainer has logged for more than three years.
While the path to the playoffs this year isn’t difficult, from a psychological point of view, United urgently needs a win. Since the end of last year, including the playoffs, DC is 2-7-7 with a minus 11 goal differential. Since the MLS resumed in July, United are 1-5-5 with eight goals scored and five goalless performances.
Injuries have taken a toll: Paul Arriola has yet to play this season and the other high-priced player, Edison Flores, has appeared in six games. Some other regulars have missed long stretches.
“We cleared a number of hurdles that halted some of the progress that we were happy to see,” said Olsen. “It’s been a difficult year, but that doesn’t mean we don’t believe in this group.”
Ahead of Friday’s practice, the first session after the Nashville defeat, Captain Steven Birnbaum said the players “were broadcasting things. … We can’t wait much longer. We must have this desperation. We think this game is almost a must for us in New England, especially for our team morale. “
More information: Yordy Reyna, a Peruvian national team striker who was transferred from Vancouver last week, is expected to make his debut on Sunday, Olsen said. … Midfielder Russell Canouse will be suspended for the red card.
DC United versus New England Revolution
Records: United 2-6-5, 11 points; Revolution 4-3-6, 18 points.