WASHINGTON – Bundled up in a long black winter jacket and sporting a tri-colored ski cap, D.C. United coach Ben Olsen addressed a sizeable media contingent following Thursday’s training session in good spirits.
Amid a young group of talented players preparing for their first playoff appearances, and the club’s first postseason match since 2007, Olsen’s youth sometimes gets lost in what he’s already been able to accomplish in his two-plus years at the helm.
After missing out on the playoffs in his first full season as manager (and fading rather harshly down the stretch) in 2011, Olsen has unified his group after the loss of captain Dwayne De Rosario to a knee injury as they surge into the first leg of their series against the New York Red Bulls on a seven-match unbeaten streak (5-0-2).
When the questions about Saturday’s opening leg of the series at RFK Stadium (8 pm ET, NBCSN, live chat on MLSsoccer.com) turned toward the past – the decorated history of the four-time MLS Cup champs, or Olsen’s success as a player for United – Olsen made it clear he wants to look ahead.
“I think the players are understanding the present and what they can do to create their own history,” Olsen said. “That’s the fun part, to see these guys believing in themselves and believing they can write their own history and raise their own trophies.
“The past is the past. I want to start creating the future and making some history of our own.”
In many ways, Olsen already has.
In a short amount of time, the 35-year-old coach has transformed D.C., and injected his fiery personality into the inner-workings of the organization, helping the players believe in one another, especially after De Rosario’s injury.
“He’s grown up a lot as a coach,” said center back Dejan Jakovic, who played with Olsen in 2009. “He came in the first couple years and struggled. Now he’s finally had success just like us. He’s a fighter. He’s all heart and that’s how he is as a coach. He wants us to be at our best and he knows what we’re capable of doing.”
That sentiment was seconded by many players on the club, including Bill Hamid, Brandon McDonald and Perry Kitchen.
“He can bring that experience into the locker room and give us that faith we need,” Hamid said. “That courage and desire to work hard in the game. If we do that, we will start writing our own history.”
From kicking the ball around with his team during training, to cracking jokes, to dealing with serious issues as they crop up, Olsen has learned and embraced his coaching role with enthusiasm and likely is on the short list for MLS Coach of the Year honors because of it.
Even looking at the impact substitutions he’s made during D.C.’s current unbeaten streak alone would lead one to believe he’s found a true groove in his third season.
“He’s young, passionate and there’s a lot of fire about him,” Jakovic said. "I had a chance to play with him, too, and he wants it more than anyone. You can see that."
While Olsen certainly knows what it’s like to step on the field for playoff matches, especially playoff matches at RFK, the feeling on Saturday evening promises to be unlike any he’s experienced before.
“It’s going to be a big task,” Olsen said of the upcoming I-95 playoff series. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for a young team. I’m inexperienced and this is a great opportunity for me as a young coach, too, to be in my first playoff game. All of these things are positive steps for this club.”