CHARLESTON, S.C. – Ben Olsen strode out of the locker room at Blackbaud Stadium on Saturday evening with a bit of confidence in his step, not something many observers have seen in quite a while. And it was with good reason.
United had just cruised past the Houston Dynamo – their first victory of any kind since hoisting the US Open Cup some five months ago. Though statistically meaningless, Olsen couldn't deny the positive impact the win had on his team.
"I’m sure if you lose these [preseason] games you put less stock in them," Olsen told MLSsoccer.com, chuckling. "If you win them, though, you put more stock in them. This helps, especially with a group last year that didn’t win many games."
Olsen's primary concern during United's preseason has been building chemistry among the team's myriad of new pieces, something that – slowly but surely – seems to be happening.
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"This is a very hungry group," said Olsen. "It’s going to take time to get everybody on the same page from a soccer standpoint, but there’s a lot of character and charisma on this team, and it’s now starting to show itself. I’m very excited."
Two of United's newcomers are forward Eddie Johnson and left back Christian Fernández, both of whom have been making steady progress throughout the preseason. Though still recovering from a broken hand – Olsen describes Fernández's off-season as "a real whirlwind" – the former Racing Santander defender showed well on Sunday evening.
"It’s going to be nice to get him here steady and get him settled in where he can have a week of training without any interruptions, but he hung in there today," said Olsen. "I was very pleased for him."
As for Johnson? Pundits are not particularly concerned with his on-the-field performance. Many, however, wondered how he'd fit into a D.C. United locker room after what some described as a tumultuous stay in Seattle.
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On Sunday, Olsen once again dismissed those concerns.
"I don’t know why this is a surprise," Olsen said. "He’s a good guy – and he’s fitting in. He’s an emotional guy, like a lot of players in this league. He’s got character. I don’t mind the emotion. On the field, he takes us to another level."
Olsen does have his concerns with the team, noting that he feels his squad would do well to get longer bouts of possession.
"We’re complicating things in the midfield rather than playing one, two-touch quick stuff, passing and moving into space."
Overall, though, United's head coach seemed hopeful on Sunday night. Perhaps brighter days are ahead for fans of D.C. United.
"There is a lot to build on." said Olsen. "Each time we get out there, we’ve grown and gotten better. It’s just important for us as a staff to see that – and it's especially important for the players to see that we're moving in the right direction."