PHILADELPHIA – Ben Olsen gets it. He’s not the center of attention this week. Frankly, the Pennsylvania native prefers it that way.
The spotlight this week rightfully belongs to the players on Olsen's squad, the 19 standouts chosen to represent Major League Soccer against Chelsea on Wednesday night at PPL Park (8:30 pm ET, ESPN2, TeleFutura, TSN/RDS in Canada).
How exactly he’ll deploy MLS’ prized possessions remains to be seen. What he did say, however, is that there won’t be any grand tactical or personnel moves to be made. On Wednesday, Olsen just hopes his limited guidance can set the All-Stars up for success against the reigning European champions.
“I’m not here to over coach," Olsen said during Tuesday’s press conference. "I’m here to facilitate and give guidelines so we can have a chance to succeed against a great team. But it’s not an easy task. We have 48 hours to get a team on the same page. Hopefully it will click. But it’s a great experience.”
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On Tuesday, Olsen and his D.C. United staff, along with Philadelphia Union interim coach John Hackworth, ran the All-Stars through their final paces at PPL Park. After a brief session on Monday that gave the players a chance to stretch their legs following weekend matches, the squad increased the tempo on Tuesday, albeit only slightly.
In addition to the requisite finishing and possession drills, the All-Stars spent some time building attacks from the back and outlining basic movement patterns underneath the shadow of the Commodore Barry Bridge.
Now comes the hard part for Olsen: nailing down a plan to spread playing time both fairly and effectively.
“After talking to every coach and every agent, that almost becomes the toughest part of this deal, trying to make everybody happy,” he said. “We’ve found a pretty good balance and it’s worked out where we can get everybody a significant amount of playing time.
“It’s not an easy process. … Some of these guys have games on Friday so I want to be respectful for the coaches and the players. I don’t want to put these players in jeopardy to be injured by being overtaxed. … Part of the experience is picking players and playing fantasy soccer within our league, which is also another great exercise for a young coach. I’ve enjoyed it.”
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One player whose role is clear is the Union’s Michael Farfan, who was added to the All-Star roster on Tuesday morning and trained with the team.
“When you look at it with managing minutes, I thought it was important to have a guy that I could hold as long as possible and I’ll probably do that with Michael,” Olsen said. “I’ve expressed that to him. And he’s happy to do that and be a part of this thing.
“The 18 guys who have been selected initially can get some real minutes. I don’t want to save a guy. I don’t want to go down a man 20 minutes in and have these guys running around down a man against Chelsea. Our strategy is to bring in another guy in the last 12 minutes and hopefully giving [Farfan] a run.”
And even though he has his hands full juggling his duties in Philadelphia, Olsen said his thoughts still pull him back to D.C. thanks to his side’s two-game losing streak and subsequent drop in the Eastern Conference standings.
Come Wednesday night, however, his focus will be squarely on what unfolds between Chelsea and his All-Star squad as the league showcases itself against Europe’s best.
“I’ve had the pleasure of playing against a bunch of these teams with D.C. United whether it’s been Real Madrid or Chelsea,” Olsen said. “As a player, I always loved those moments. As a coach, it’s a little bit different.”