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Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Ben Olsen touts Oscar Pareja for USMNT job: "He deserves to be interviewed"

WASHINGTON—While the US national team approaches an international friendly against Colombia on Thursday (7:30 pm ET | FS1, UniMás, UDN) at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, an American-born and a Colombian-born coach are preparing their respective sides for the most important MLS match of Week 33.

And for D.C. United’s Ben Olsen, it’s entirely appropriate that Oscar Pareja, his opposite number in a showdown against FC Dallas Saturday (4:55 pm ET | Univision, Twitter - Full TV & streaming info), is among those linked to the open USMNT job.

“I think he’s a guy that deserves to be interviewed,” Olsen said on Tuesday. 

“I think the more diverse you can have that process the better. I think he’s a guy with maybe a different pathway than some of the other coaches, with his playing days in South America, but also coming here and knowing our league and knowing the American player. I think he’s been a really good coach.”

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Pareja and Olsen are amid similar, if not quite identical seasons. After seeing Dallas plunge out of the playoff places in 2017, Pareja has them back on the brink of winning the Western Conference regular season title. Meanwhile, Olsen has D.C. in control of their own playoff destiny a year after finishing bottom in the East.

Yet, despite being two of the longest-tenured active MLS coaches, the duo’s meetings on the pitch have been limited.

Olsen’s strongest impressions of Pareja — who spent a dozen years playing in Colombia’s top flight before coming to MLS in 1998 — come instead from when both were part of the inaugural U.S. Soccer Pro License Coaching Course in 2016.

There, he remembers Pareja as unafraid to bring up opposing viewpoints, often succeeding in getting classmates and instructors to consider new angles.

“I have an enormous amount of respect for him as a person, what he’s done in Dallas,” said Olsen, who had 37 USMNT caps and made the 2006 World Cup quad. “The consistency that he’s had from a wins and losses perspective, and his overall philosophy on the game and life. He’s not your typical coach. And he’s, I think, a really interesting guy.”

That admiration will be temporarily shelved on Saturday, of course, as Olsen and D.C. try to extend their six-match unbeaten run and move above the playoff line and the sixth-place Montreal Impact.

While D.C. are again shorthanded, as they were when they played two matches during September’s international window, it’s a healthier, deeper roster Olsen has to choose from this time. That includes Nick DeLeon, who returned from right knee surgery to make his first appearance since late May last Sunday.

After watching his club’s second-half surge from the sidelines, DeLeon could be good for up to 60 minutes on Saturday, Olsen said, as D.C. cope with right back Oniel Fisher’s season-ending knee ligament tear.

“I definitely had up and down days,” DeLeon said of the absence. “I kept it pretty mellow around the team, my attitude was fairly positive. But it was my wife who unfortunately [bore the] brunt of some of the down part, which I’ve already thanked her for.”