NEW YORK – Many who look at D.C. United's hiring of Ben Olsen may think it was the easy way out for the club. After all, Olsen is a fanfavorite, he was incumbent and he was already under contract.
But give D.C. United management a lot more credit than that.The move was a lot tougher than it may seem on the surface.
It’s been well-documented that time and again during Olsen’sinterim tenure, club management was sure of one thing: Olsen was not going tobe the head coach in 2011.
For a proud club like D.C. United, with executives thathave been entrenched in the game before MLS was ever around, going back ontheir public stance could not have been easy.
During Monday’s press conference club officials claimed thatruling Olsen out of the permanent job was merely a way to shield the33-year-old coach and the club from pressure and controversy.
“I don’t regret having said it at all,” team president KevinPayne said about his comments. “It would have been a mistake to have had that speculation outthere throughout the remaining portion of the season. … The intention was toprotect the club and protect Ben for the future and forestall controversy.”But given the team was already in last place when Olsen tookover, the argument could also be made that there would have been very littleadded pressure to simply postpone evaluations to the end of the season as iscommonly done in soccer circles.
There may have actually been more damage done to Olsen andthe club by leaving the rookie manager out there as a lame duck coach who theplayers had no reason to play for. Regardless of the private conversations thatwere had, there was little to be gained by publicly stating that Olsen was tooinexperienced to be an immediate candidate for the full-time job.
Nonetheless, faced with a crucial hire after one of theworst seasons in MLS history, pride and ego were sacrificed in the name of making the right decision. You just don't see that happen in professional sports these days.
Olsen’s inexperience has not suddenlydisappeared, but club officials were still prepared to face the music, no matterhow they were going to look in the process. United should be lauded for not letting a few publiccomments get in the way of their decision.
It’s hard enough to name the right coach at a critical juncture for your soccer club. It’s harder when you have to go back on your word.