Ahead of tomorrow’s match against Toronto FC, dcunited.com caught up with Head Coach, and former D.C. United star, Ryan Nelsen. Nelsen talked about his days in D.C., winning the MLS Cup in 2004 and coaching against his former teammate, and DCU Head Coach, Ben Olsen.
What was it like winning the 2004 MLS Cup here in D.C.?
Ryan Nelsen: “It was a special time. It is still one of my favorite memories, when you win a championship. It was my fourth year, and I kind of knew it was going to be my final one. So to leave United, to leave the club, winning a championship was just so perfect. It was such a great club. The fans were great; the people who were involved in the club were great. We had a couple of tough years, so to finish with that; it was a real special time.”
What’s it going to be like to coach against Ben [Olsen]?
RN: “Obviously, it will always have a special place in my heart, D.C.—so many friends and so many good memories. But obviously, times move on and everybody moves on. You have a job on hand, and hopefully we can win on Saturday and after the 90 minutes we’ll have a glass of wine with Benny Olsen and talk about all those good times from back in the day.”
Besides winning the Cup here, what was your favorite memory at RFK?
RN: “There’s so many memories—not only just that year that we won it, but the four years I had. It was a special place. The fans always made you feel welcome, and it was always a tough place to play. They were just really passionate people. Again, I was just a young man, so for four years, I just really enjoyed the time there and the Club was a big part of that.”
When you were here, you were a player while Kevin Payne was President, and now you’re coaching under him. What has that been like?
RN: “It’s the same. He’s obviously a really passionate guy and he cares about the club. He spent so many years at D.C. It has a big place in his heart—a lot of emotion and a lot of work was put into D.C. United. I saw that as a player, and now as a coach here, I see he wants to bring that kind of work ethic and that kind of passion to Toronto. He is already kind of making his mark at this club.”
What motivated you to stop playing and start coaching?
RN: “It was just time, you know. You just know deep down that it’s time. Everybody else will tell you their opinion and tell you to keep playing, like if you should keep playing or if you should not, but deep down you just know yourself. Then, this opportunity came, and it was such a huge challenge, and it was really exciting. It still is a challenge and still will be a challenge, but I just knew deep down.”
Well, now that you are the coach, can you talk a little bit about what direction you want to take Toronto FC?
RN: “Well, obviously, we’ve had several years of tough times and kind of interesting decision making. You’ve just got to have some stability. The clubs been pulled left, right and center—it needs to have some stability. And that takes time; it’s hard work. It’s hard work to change mentalities and bring squads together with the right attitude and the right work ethic. We’re slowly making progress. It’s a big job. Eventually, I am 100% confident that Toronto will be one of the best teams in this league.”
Awesome, well one last question, more about Saturday’s game. Toronto has been giving up some late goals and D.C. United has been giving up some early goals. So, how do you think that will play into the match?
RN: “Maybe we should swap. It’s more heartbreaking losing them at the end. It’s unfortunate, if we didn’t concede in the last couple of minutes, we’d be third in the League in our conference. It’s painful. Its something that we address and it’s something that we work on. But, I’d be more worried if we were getting smashed in the previous 89 minutes, but we do really well, and we deserve to be in these positions, but we just unfortunately can’t see the game over. Once we remedy that then we’ll be in a nice position. So, hopefully D.C. United can continue their trend and we can break our trend and that’d be a nice position for us.”
Earlier today, members of the media asked Ben Olsen how he felt about coaching against an old friend.
It's going to be interesting seeing Ryan Nelsen on the sideline with you.
Ben Olsen: “You know how I feel about Ryan. I’ve got an enormous amount of respect for him as a player, and I think he’s done a good job there setting the right tone and the right atmosphere around that club. They’ve got a lot of resources there, and they’ll continue to build something hopefully special. It’s an organization that I think is important for them to succeed for this league, and I think he will do a good job of making sure that happens.”