WASHINGTON - On September 21, 2013, D.C. United head coach Ben Olsen stood in the hallway underneath Gillette Stadium.
His team had just given up two second-half goals on the road against the New England Revolution -- one of them the result of a missed offside call. His players barked at the door of the referee’s dressing room in frustration as they walked past.
The result that day had extended United's winless run to seven games, a streak they’d extend through the end of the season, completing arguably the worst campaign by any club in MLS history.
Olsen did little to hide his annoyance.
“We were just going up against too much today,” he told the media in attendance. “Take that for what it’s worth.”
On Monday afternoon -- a year and a day after that frustrating day -- Ben Olsen met the media under far different circumstances. United are no longer the worst team in Major League Soccer. Far from it. They currently sit atop the Eastern Conference standings and are fourth in the Supporters' Shield standings.
And rather than lingering in a stadium hallway this time, he sat at a table alongside United co-owner Jason Levien, who’d come to announce the re-signing of his head coach. Though terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, The Washington Post reports that the deal will keep Olsen at RFK through 2019.
"I’m excited about the next couple of months,” Olsen said. "I’m excited about trying to get into the playoffs, I’m excited about CONCACAF, trying to get into the next round there. I’m excited about the Eastern Conference championships and of course trying to make a run to MLS Cup after that. It’s a lot to be excited about right now."
Olsen’s contract extension comes amid the greatest turnaround, to date, in MLS history. After winning just three games in 2013, United have 14 victories with five games still to come, a playoff spot (and perhaps home-field advantage) all but assured. There have been other bright spots: D.C. have fared well in CONCACAF Champions League -- where they’re on the verge of qualification for the knockout round -- and negotiations for a new, state-of-the art stadium seem to be going well.
It’s a turnaround that many observers may have figured Olsen wouldn’t have been around to see. There was plenty of chatter towards the end of United’s 2013 season about whether the club legend would be let go, but United chose to stick with him.
“They've been very loyal,” Olsen said after the press conference. "I’ve said it a million times. Nobody would have blamed them for getting rid of me.”
His owners weren’t the only ones who stuck by Olsen. United’s fan base -- many of whom have never pulled for a United side that Olsen hasn’t been involved with in some way or another -- were largely supportive.
"There weren’t signs in the stadium saying 'Fire Olsen’ -- that’s a big deal," Olsen said. "That means a lot. Fans are powerful."
Still, earlier this season, when Olsen sat down to negotiate a new deal with Levien, he wasn't in the best position. And he conceded a bit more leverage when he let his team colors shine through.
"I told Jason in negotiations: 'I don’t want to move. I want to be here. I want to be at this club, I want my kids to be in this city,’" recalled Olsen, whose children were born in the capital city. "It’s not the best negotiating tactic, but it’s true. From day one I fell in love with this club. There was a lot to fall in love with, and I feel a responsibility to push this club to the next level.”
Which is exactly what he has done this year. With Olsen remaining in his position, there were changes enacted. Olsen and General Manger Dave Kasper overhauled the club’s roster -- nearly as many players departed the club as stayed -- to add a distinctly veteran flavor.
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“You need good players,” Olsen said. “You need players that are competitive, have the right hunger, are team-oriented, because at the end of the day, they’re the ones out there.”
United’s new formula has worked out maybe even better than Olsen expected. Heading into this weekend's home match against the Philadelphia Union, United are in a prime position to get into the MLS Cup playoffs and in CCL, to the knockout stage -- the type of unilateral success the club has traditionally known but has been lacking recently.
"We get caught up in the past a lot here,” said Olsen. "I think the future is bright. The product we’re putting on the field is, too. This club means a lot to me and it would mean a lot to have success here and get these fans up and cheering with a championship."