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Onstad's career path leads to coaching role

Three-time MLS Cup winner eager to change attitudes within United

WASHINGTON – After his eighth season in the league came to an end last year, Pat Onstad’s career reached a crossroads.

The 42-year-old goalkeeper was negotiating a possible new deal to extend his playing career for one more season with the Houston Dynamo, but the opportunity failed to materialize. That’s when he reached out to D.C. United coach Ben Olsen about possibly starting his MLS coaching career with an old friend in a new place.

“I thought I had a deal in Houston worked out as a player that fell through, and the next thing I know there was a job offer to coach — something I’ve always wanted to do,” Onstad told MLSsoccer.com. “I’m pretty excited to get started.”

Olsen and Onstad have a relationship that started as opponents on the field but extends to the MLS Players’ Union Executive Committee, where both league veterans were members lobbying for the interests of their fellow players.

Coaching is nothing new to Onstad, who holds a USSF “A” Coaching License and has worked with the Canadian Olympic team. In DC, Onstad’s primary focus will be working with the defense and two goalkeepers currently on the roster: youngster Bill Hamid and veteran Steve Cronin.

He’ll work closely with those two while also helping improve a United defense that conceded a league-worst 47 goals in 2010.

But almost as important is the winning mentality Onstad brings to DC, even as a coach. He won a combined three MLS Cups with the San Jose Earthquakes and Dynamo, and reached the postseason all but one season during his eight-year tenure in the league.

“The big thing for me is the fact I’m right out of the league is that I know how to win in the league – not last year – but seven years before that. It’s not as easy as everyone thinks; it’s a difficult process,” Onstad said. “Winning is a habit, and once you fall out of that habit, losing becomes a habit pretty quickly too, and it’s a tough thing to break out of. This year, that’s going to be our sole purpose – being a very difficult team to beat.”

While Wednesday marked the beginning of his coaching career, Onstad is eager to begin contributing and learning the ropes. He’ll head to Florida for the MLS Combine to help scout players, and is looking to pitch in wherever he is needed.

“My big thing is getting my feet wet and be here to support (assistant Chad Ashton) and Ben, in whatever way I can,” he said. “Whether it’s working with the goalies, the back four, whether it’s picking up cones or putting them down, whatever it takes.”

Down the road, he sees himself as a head coach at a high level. And although he admits that point is several years from now, his already brief stint with D.C. United has already shown a lot of promise.

“For me I’ve got a lot to learn in the coaching aspect,” Onstad said. “The nice thing already is both Chad and Ben have been asking my opinion and valuing my opinion, and it’s always nice when you’re wanted in a room. It’s a good opportunity for me and the club.”