WASHINGTON – While former D.C. United president and CEO Kevin Payne’s decision to leave the club after 17 years was admittedly a difficult one for him to make, the move also had an emotional impact on another United mainstay – head coach Ben Olsen.
Olsen, who began his relationship with Payne as a player and was eventually chosen by Payne to be D.C.’s next coach, said Tuesday that he’s sad to see Payne leaving United.
“He’s been paternal to me in a lot of ways and he’s always been loyal to me and gave me the opportunity to coach this team, so I’m certainly going to miss him,” Olsen said.
In his second full year as coach, the 35-year-old Olsen led United to their first playoff appearance in five seasons, continuing to cultivate the trust Payne initially placed in him by naming him the youngest coach in MLS history at the time.
“I know I’ve learned a lot from Kevin and his leadership upstairs and the way he deals with us downstairs,” Olsen said. “I think everyone has been influenced by Kevin in a big way. We could all use that and maybe spread our wings a little bit more and hopefully fill in his shoes.”
Before accepting the position of president and general manager at Toronto FC on Wednesday, Payne was highly complimentary of the staff in place at United.
“There’s very good leadership. There’s a lot of talent on the staff,” Payne said in a conference call. “There’s a really, really good group of people both at the executive level and the levels in the staff below that who are terrific – who are imaginative, young, vibrant people who care deeply about the club. I think the future of D.C. United is in really good hands.”
Despite Payne’s departure, Olsen said not much will change with how he and general manager Dave Kasper deal with day-to-day operations at United. The new president is expected to focus more on the business side of operations as well as help with the club’s tireless pursuit of a soccer-specific stadium.
“It’s not easy to hear [that Payne’s leaving], but this is life,” Olsen said. “He’s moving on and D.C. United needs to move on. From the technical side, not much changes here with myself and Dave Kasper and the coaching staff. Nothing really changes down here, it’s more that we’re just not going to see Kevin around.”
Ultimately, despite seeing a roughly 15-year run working together in one capacity or another, Olsen was nothing but happy for Payne as he embarks on a new adventure in Toronto.
“I’m glad this year we sent him out on a high note,” said Olsen, whose club reached the Eastern Conference Championship. “It’s been a tough couple years here at D.C. and this year, there were a lot of positive things with this club – a lot of things that reminded us of some of the old success this club has had. I’m glad he was able to leave on those terms.”