WASHINGTON — After a lengthy, intense practice Tuesday on the training fields near RFK Stadium, D.C. United coach Ben Olsen was asked to comment on what he has learned from this season. A campaign that, in the young coach’s third year at the helm, has United sitting on a league-worst 13 points through 24 matches.
In his typical quick-witted fashion, Olsen responded: “We’re going to have to sit down and have a long lunch for that question.”
But following the joke, Olsen opened up and spoke candidly about what this season has meant to him and for United.
After starting the year with high hopes and sights set on a return to the Eastern Conference Final and perhaps an MLS Cup, injuries and poor play sidetracked D.C.’s season fairly early on.
Things have been salvaged of late, however, with the influx of talented, young American players, a matchup against Real Salt Lake in the US Open Cup final looming and the announcement of plans for a new soccer-specific stadium in D.C. that could open as early as 2016.
“I hate to make this about me because we all have learned a lot from an organizational standpoint,” he told reporters after Tuesday’s training session. “Players, coaches, maybe front office, fans, we all have gone through this together. And that is what I’m proud of is that we’re still hanging in there and we’re still trying to get better each day and we found ourselves in a final, still.”
When Olsen took over as United’s interim coach in 2010, the club was experiencing nearly as dismal a season and he was given the job permanently to begin 2011. This year, he said, has tested him more than any of the others combined.
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“As far as what I’ve learned: managing, managing emotions, teaching,” Olsen said. “Every facet of this job, I have learned more in these six, seven months than I have up until this year. There has been no shortage of lessons for all of us. And if I survive this, I’ll be a much better coach for this. I will."
Olsen admitted that he expected a down season at some point during his career. But the current one blindsided United based on what they were able to accomplish the year before and the talent compiled on the roster.
“I always knew there’d be some type of dip at some point and all coaches go through it. I didn’t want it to be this disastrous in the results category,” he said. “But if I can step aside and learn as much as possible during a tough time like this, I’ll be a better coach for it, our players will be better for it and our staff will be better for it.”
Nick Cammarota covers D.C. United for MLSsoccer.com.