NEW YORK – Many who look at D.C. United's hiring of Ben Olsen may think it was the easy way out for the club. After all, Olsen is a fan favorite, he was incumbent and he was already under contract.
But give D.C. United management a lot more credit than that. The move was a lot tougher than it may seem on the surface.
It’s been well-documented that time and again during Olsen’s interim tenure, club management was sure of one thing: Olsen was not going to be the head coach in 2011.
For a proud club like D.C. United, with executives that have been entrenched in the game before MLS was ever around, going back on their public stance could not have been easy.
During Monday’s press conference club officials claimed that ruling Olsen out of the permanent job was merely a way to shield the 33-year-old coach and the club from pressure and controversy.
“I don’t regret having said it at all,” team president Kevin Payne said about his comments. “It would have been a mistake to have had that speculation out there throughout the remaining portion of the season. … The intention was to protect the club and protect Ben for the future and forestall controversy.”
[inline_node:317944]But given the team was already in last place when Olsen took over, the argument could also be made that there would have been very little added pressure to simply postpone evaluations to the end of the season as is commonly done in soccer circles.
There may have actually been more damage done to Olsen and the club by leaving the rookie manager out there as a lame duck coach who the players had no reason to play for. Regardless of the private conversations that were had, there was little to be gained by publicly stating that Olsen was too inexperienced to be an immediate candidate for the full-time job.
Nonetheless, faced with a crucial hire after one of the worst seasons in MLS history, pride and ego were sacrificed in the name of making the right decision. You just don't see that happen in professional sports these days.
Olsen’s inexperience has not suddenly disappeared, but club officials were still prepared to face the music, no matter how they were going to look in the process. United should be lauded for not letting a few public comments get in the way of their decision.
It’s hard enough to name the right coach at a critical juncture for your soccer club. It’s harder when you have to go back on your word.