Griffin Dorsey, the former winger waived by Toronto FC two years ago only to blossom as a rampaging fullback in Houston, who slammed the game’s breathtaking opening goal past Drake Callender to set the early tone? Olsen chose to highlight the fact he’d benched the Indiana University product for long stretches of the season’s first half.
“He’s a wonderful kid and a wonderful human, and the fact that he's been on the bench early in the year, it makes me think I was crazy,” said the coach.
“He worked at his craft, he didn't sulk, he’s a great example of a guy that's out of it, coming in, saying, ‘What do I need to do to get on the field? What do I need to work on?’ Grabbing assistant coaches, doing film work. And he's just a great example for guys to, when you're not in favor, of how to get out of it. … At this point, there's no way I'm taking him off the field.”
How about that outstanding midfield group – Héctor Herrera, Coco Carrasquilla, Amine Bassi and Artur, a highly technical crew with an excellent collective understanding and shapeshifting tactical fluidity that made life miserable for the home team?
Olsen gave out plenty of praise and took precious little credit.
“That's where this game was going to be won or lost. If our central midfield played to their potential, we'd have a good chance of winning tonight. And they did,” he said. “Particularly the first half, there was some beautiful stuff. Led by Héctor, Héctor I thought was incredible. Artur, I just expect that from Artur every game, the level he was at. Coco, going north and really driving by guys, is a nice compliment to them, and Bassi – it's very organic.
“We give them a structure to have success, but a lot of what you see is feel, and relationships with those four in there, and it's organic. It's fun to watch, and they like playing with each other.”
Or how Houston prepared parallel game plans, one for a scenario in which Lionel Messi and Jordi Alba overcame their fitness issues and took the field for IMCF, another for the eventuality they didn’t – and why none of that could take the gloss off the Dynamo’s ultimate achievement.
“They were missing a player or two,” deadpanned Olsen to CBS sideline reporter Susannah Collins, “but I don't really care. I don't really care.”
Wednesday night, and Houston’s season as a whole, has shed some valuable light on how Olsen maintained the trust of D.C. United and their fans for nearly a decade despite plenty of down seasons. And why the Dynamo picked him to lead their rebuilding project under the ownership of Ted Segal, which now takes a massive step forward with the capture of the club’s second Open Cup title and fourth major trophy.
“It's huge for the club, it's huge for the team. It's huge for everybody in Houston,” Dorsey told Collins as he and his teammates celebrated their win. “I think we've had a rough stretch as Houston Dynamo and this is something that'll put us on the map, and show that we're a team to compete in MLS, Open Cup, Leagues Cup, whatever cup we're playing in, whatever league we’re playing in.”
Revealingly, Herrera did not hesitate to put the focus right back on the final weeks of the Dynamo’s league campaign, where they are right in the heart of the MLS Western Conference postseason mix and may yet turn out to be an MLS Cup dark horse.
“I think it is a great injection for us, a massive boost,” said the Mexican international in a sideline interview with CBS’ Nico Cantor. “There's four games left that are going to be very important, especially the ones at home. It's a big motivation to end the season.”
Also folded in among the postgame soundbytes were a few hints of just how La Naranja upset Miami at DRV PNK Stadium, pouring some cold water on the intoxicating hype that has accompanied the Herons since Messi, Alba and Sergio Busquets arrived to headline their midsummer glow-up.
The visitors were shockingly dominant in the first half, controlling the tempo, making Miami chase and creating chance after chance – so much so that at halftime Olsen expressed unease at his side’s inability to add to the 2-0 lead they carried into the locker room. Sure enough, his opposite number Gerardo “Tata” Martino made some tactical changes that tipped the scales, forcing Houston to hang on for dear life right until the final whistle.
“We showed two sides of us, and throughout the season, we've had to rely on both of those,” Olsen told Collins. “So when things are clicking, and we're moving the ball and we're dangerous, and then in the halftime, for most of the second half, it was about resiliency, and bending a little bit, at times more than we wanted to, but we saw it out. And you need to do both in this league. You can't always play a full game at a really high level.”
This marks the third Open Cup triumph for Olsen, a self-described “romantic” when it comes to this storied, century-old jewel of the domestic scene, one as a player and two as a coach.
Having arrived in the Bayou City over the winter after more than two decades in D.C., charged with guiding the Dynamo back to the lofty heights they enjoyed in their early years in the city, he likened this tournament run to a dollop of gasoline on the fire he, Segal, general manager Pat Onstad and technical director Asher Mendelsohn are attempting to coax into a full-on blaze at Shell Energy Stadium.
“We need to win games at Houston. It doesn't matter if it's an Open Cup, it doesn't matter if it's the Leagues Cup,” said Olsen. “To get buy-in as a coach, you need to win games – and that includes Open Cup – to try to change the culture around here.
“When I got to Houston,” he noted, “everyone said it: this place, there's a lot of disrespect going on and we're almost invisible. And then I saw firsthand over the first couple of months. And again, that's our job. That's what tonight's about. That's what winning games and that's what trying to get into the postseason is about, is this progress and this process of us putting Houston back on the map a little bit and making sure that we're a postseason team that is consistently playing for trophies.”
Photos by Devin L'Amoreaux