WASHINGTON – In search of a coach to lead its All-Star team against Chelsea on July 25 at PPL Park, Major League Soccer didn’t have to look far.
On Thursday afternoon, after a week of speculation following would-be All-Star coach Peter Nowak’s dismissal by the Philadelphia Union, D.C. United’s Ben Olsen was put in charge of the league’s mid-summer classic.
And if you listen to Olsen, the fact MLS didn’t have to look far is the only reason he got the call.
“They chose the closest guy to save some money on train tickets,” United’s second-year coach said with a laugh, conveniently overlooking the fact that his team sits atop the Eastern Conference.
Those around Olsen aren’t buying cheap travel as a reason why league officials wanted the fiery 35-year-old in charge of their marquee event. The facts are that, in less than 36 months, he has gone from player to rookie assistant to head coach in a remarkable transition that has left even United’s most savvy veterans impressed.
“When you are a player, you are with the guys, but when you are a coach, you have to separate yourself and keep that professionalism,” said captain Dwayne De Rosario of the obstacles Olsen has already overcome in his brief coaching career. “I didn’t expect that when I came here. I thought it was going to be more loosey-goosey, but no, he was all business and very straightforward and I admire that.”
With a lineup that seems to be in a constant state of flux, Olsen has been one of the few constants for D.C. this season. A brutal schedule saw United play more matches than any other MLS side through the campaign’s first three months, yet the young coach has – through it all – kept his team winning.
So as much as the honor says about Olsen’s impressive performance this year, it also serves as a just reward for his first-place side.
“It’s a great team honor and it’s one of those things where the team can really take credit,” said defender Robbie Russell. “Ben has done a great job. [He] brought in great players and has really done well to get the most out of us, and the fact that he is being honored this way is a credit to him.”
"It's recognition for my staff," Olsen said, noting that Chad Ashton, Sonny Silooy and Pat Onstad will be on the sidelines with him in Philadelphia. "[They] have done a great job, always helping out a young coach and [always] keeping this place afloat."
For Olsen, who hails from Harrisburg, Pa., the late July showcase will also be a chance to head home.
“My brother lives in Philadelphia, my sister lives right outside and I spent a great deal of my soccer career as a youth playing in Philadelphia,” Olsen said last week of the city where he’ll coach his first All-Star Game. “I love the city and I love the soccer community there, so it’s always nice to go back.”