WASHINGTON – After surviving D.C. United's last-place finish in the Eastern Conference this season, coach Ben Olsen says he neither knows nor cares how long his proverbial leash will be in a pivotal 2018 campaign for the club.
“I have zero sense in that, and I have zero concern of that as well,” Olsen said Friday. “My job doesn’t change. I’ve been here a long time. When it’s time for me to not be the coach here, it’s time for me to not be the coach here. It’s the club that matters to me. And if that decision happens at some point, or when that happens, okay.”
Olsen endured a similar situation back in 2013, when D.C. became the first MLS side to win only three games in an entire league campaign. He was allowed to stay on then, and his teams responded with three consecutive trips to the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs before this season.
There may be even more pressure for a quick turnaround in 2018, with a potentially historically long road trip awaiting D.C. to start the season before the expected opening of their new stadium, Audi Field, in the summer.
A tough opening to the campaign could ratchet up the pressure on Olsen, who has been in the job since midway through the 2010 season, and his team. Then again, a steady start in that stretch could appease some doubters.
“The first half of the year will be difficult in the sense that there will be a good portion of it on the road, but it’s also an easy narrative to sell to players,” Olsen said. “And a narrative in which we understand that you’re not going to win three, four on the road. It doesn’t happen in the league. So your expectations have to be – from fans and players and staff and everyone – to understand what the goal is when you kind of turn the corner and come into a homestretch.”
Olsen accepts a major share of the responsibility for United’s 2017 struggles, but also said that no one factor alone could explain why a team that finished fourth in the East in 2016 fell seven spots the following season.
“I’ve been through this before,” he explained. “It’s never [just] injuries. It’s never [just] we made a bad choice on two players. It’s never just, a few guys underperformed. It’s never [just] ‘It’s the coach.’ It’s always some type of perfect storm.”
As for where Olsen thinks he fell short in 2017?
“In-game decision making can always get better,” he said. “Player acquisition. When players aren’t playing up to their level, you have to look at yourself in some capacity. It’s not just on the player.
“I’m the leader of this team. Make no mistake, I put a lot of blame on the year on myself. But again, players have to take responsibility as well and understand that it’s also on them to move forward.”