WASHINGTON — As strange as Wednesday’s U.S. Open Cup Round of 16 fixture may feel for Orlando City SC's contingent without coach Jason Kreis, that absence will also be felt strongly in the opposing coach's box.
Their relationship even predates MLS, beginning when Ben Olsen went to Duke on a college recruiting trip while Kreis was a senior there.
“I've known Jason a long time. I’ve also played against him, and I’ve followed his career in Salt Lake and in this league,” Olsen said Tuesday before his team's Open Cup tie against Orlando at the Maryland SoccerPlex on Wednesday (7 pm ET). “I have nothing but good things to say about Jason as a person and as a coach. I think it's a tough (freaking) business. And it's hard. And a lot of head coaches and people that are in the mix of the weekly grind behind closed doors really understand how difficult it is sometimes.
“So I see no joy in seeing a coach like Jason move on or get fired. I think he's been a big part of this league.”
In his eighth full season in charge of D.C., it’s also not lost on Olsen that he has survived when others in an old guard that includes Kreis have not. Sigi Schmid, Dom Kinnear, Pablo Mastroeni, Frank Yallop and Jay Heaps have all parted ways with former clubs since 2015.
Despite a couple of disastrous seasons, no serious rumors have ever emerged suggesting Olsen’s departure, in part because he has rebounded from each of those campaigns to guide D.C. to the postseason.
After a last-place finish in 2017, this season has the added wrinkle of schedule imbalance. United currently sit in last again and nine points adrift of the playoff line. But they've played at least three fewer matches than any of the six sides above the line, and 10 of their 12 games away while the construction of Audi Field is completed.
“The loyalty ownership has shown me in tough times has always been appreciated, and I hope in some small way I've also done my part,” Olsen said. “Ultimately [the end of my tenure] will happen. When that happens, I'm not sure. It's not up to me.
“But myself and my staff, I feel like are doing a very good job with this team. And I'm coaching at a level and my staff is coaching at a level that really is greater than I have in the past. I'm growing and my staff is growing. That's all you can worry about.”
Having played under five different coaches across 11 MLS seasons in D.C. United’s midfield, Olsen believes Kreis' dismissal will play into the feel of Wednesday's match, Orlando's first match since the upheaval.
“These teams are moody,” Olsen said. "During that week there's a lot going on. There's a lot of emotion in the locker room. That can go good, or that can go bad. That can go physical. So we have to be ready for I think a very physical team. I think a team that wants to show the management and the interim coach that they deserve to be on that field to change the fortunes of the club.”