New era, new goals: Olsen mulls DC United's future ambitions, roster moves

Ben Olsen - D.C. United - fist pumps after a game

WASHINGTON – In the moments after D.C. United’s heartbreaking penalty-kick shootout loss to Columbus Crew SC in the Knockout Round of the Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs, coach Ben Olsen spoke of the pride of ushering in a new era that included the opening of Audi Field and arrival of Wayne Rooney.

Some 12 days later, in his last public availability of 2018, he gave a window into what he thinks the new goals should be in that new era.

“The reality is, we weren’t good enough to get out of the first round of the playoffs. That’s how the mentality should be,” Olsen said. “How do we now, not only get into the postseason with a little bit more ease than we did this year, but then be a successful postseason team?”

D.C. last won a trophy when they raised the 2013 U.S. Open Cup, and despite winning four MLS Cups, haven’t secured one of those since 2004. During most of Olsen’s tenure, merely making the postseason has been viewed as a success while D.C. played under financial constraints at storied but decaying RFK Stadium.

It’s clear, however, that the Black-and-Red’s new star and new digs have put the club back on the local sports map in a meaningful way, which will likely bring more financial might to bear in the years ahead.

United averaged 18,819 fans per game in their 15 regular-season games at 20,000-seat Audi Field. D.C. haven’t averaged that many fans over a full season since 2008.

On the field, United didn’t disappoint those fans, dropping only eight points in their matches at the new venue. To keep living up to the high bar they set in 2018, Olsen says merely consolidating the most talented squad of his tenure isn’t an option.

“You’ve got to be careful taking too much negativity off the front end [of the season], and too much positivity on the back end,” Olsen said. “I think there’s some opportunity to bring the nucleus, the core of this team back, which is good. But you also need to freshen up. The more I do this, the importance of freshening a team up and not getting caught up in that good that I was speaking of, is vital.”

Olsen declined to say which areas of the squad will need the most attention. He did, however, voice support for locking up his two influential Argentines.

With 10 goals and 17 assists, Luciano Acosta played his way, alongside Rooney, onto the 2018 MLS Best XI. He reportedly has a year remaining on his current contract, and D.C. have a chance this offseason to extend the 24-year-old rather than risk losing him to a free transfer after 2019.

Meanwhile, Yamil Asad’s year-long loan from Velez Sarsfield is set to expire. While his offensive production waned down the stretch, in part because of an ankle injury, he clearly left an impression on Olsen.

“He definitely wasn’t at his best down the stretch, but it was solely because of the ankle,” Olsen said of Asad, who finished with nine goals and eight assists. “I thought in a lot of ways, in the second half of the Columbus game he was the best player on the field. So I thought he’s been great. Great for the team. And I personally would like to see him back here.”