DC Hosts Crew in 2011 Season Opener

For the first time since 2006, DC United gets to open the season in RFK stadium, where they will be facing long time Eastern Conference rival, the Columbus Crew.

Looking to erase the worst season in team history, DC United begins the Ben Olsen era, in a rare season opener in the friendly confines of RFK stadium against the Columbus Crew, with a rebuilt roster full of new faces.

With at best only four starters from last year’s disastrous season opener in KC likely to start this weekend against the Crew, United’s almost complete transformation will be readily apparent starting with central midfielder Dax McCarty replacing the legendary Jaime Moreno as captain of the team, pretty much completely severing any ties to United’s glory years.

It seems pretty likely that from last year’s opening day roster, only young phenom, Andy Najar and midfield iron man Clyde Simms are guaranteed a starting spots for the new look DC United against the Crew. Maybe forward/midfielder Chris Pontius and center back Dejan Jakovic find the starting lineup as well, but each has stiff competition to beat out if they expect to make any starting job their own.

Based on the pre-season and news to date, it seems pretty likely United will start new forwards Josh Wolff and Joseph Ngwenya, both of whom had very effective pre-seasons, as it seems likely Olsen will choose to bring on the dynamic Charlie Davies off the bench in his first match in United colors as he works his way back to full fitness from his horrific crash late in 2009. Perhaps Pontius gets the nod over Wolff, but considering he’s played mostly midfield in the pre-season, that seems unlikely.

In the midfield, possibly Pontius starts on the left, but considering the financial commitment United has made to designated player Branko Boskovic, it seems more likely the Montenegran midfielder will claim that left side position. In the center will be Captain McCarty and Clyde Simms almost certainly, and it seems equally likely Najar claims the right side as well, all of which leaves long time United player Santino Quaranta on the outside looking in.

In defense, Olsen does have some interesting choices, Marc Burch is apparently healthy and clearly has some hold over the powers that be in United land as they see something that I don’t and he seems likely to start left back. Perhaps former Fire back, Daniel Woolard pips Burch at the post, and in my opinion, he’s the better overall player, but there you go.

In the center, third pick in the draft, Perry Kitchen is all but a lock to start having impressed everyone this pre-season. Next to him seems likely to be Jakovic, but possibly DC’s off season pickup, Uruguyan defender Rodrigo Bresesco edges out Jakovic although that seems unlikely. Or perhaps Bresesco snags the right back slot away from Jed Zayner, but that too seems unlikely since he’s played pretty much in the center all pre-season.

Finally in goal, United will have emergency signing, player coach Pat Onstad, in the nets. What will be interesting is to see who will be his backup. If it’s rookie Joe Willis, then Hamid is nowhere near fit enough yet coming back from his shoulder surgery. However, if Hamid is indeed the emergency keeper, then United’s impressive young keeper might be closer to re-acquiring his starting job sooner rather than later.

As for the Crew, it seems likely they will play their standard 4-4-2 with Emilio Renteria and Peruvian designated player, Andres Mendoza at forward. Perhaps the second leading scorer in MLS history, Jeff Cunningham takes over for Renteria, if the Venezuelan is not fully recovered from a knock, but Cunningham coming off the bench seems far more likely.

In midfield, gone is former MVP, Guillermo Barros Schelotto, but Robbie Rogers, Nigerian Olympian, Emmanuel Ekpo, and Eddie Gaven return going left to right across the formation. With Danny O’Rourke out and having just signed 31 year old Serb, Dejan Rusmir out of the Romanian first division, it seems likely he starts at defensive midfield.

United will welcome a familiar face starting in the defense, as Julius James is slated to start in central defense place of Andy Iro, who is coming off a groin injury. Rookie Rich Balchan is expected to start at left back, Chad Marshall in the center next to James, and 30 year old Sebastion Miranda from Chili will be starting on the right. In goal, Hesmer appears healthy coming back from shoulder problems, but if not quite ready former Dallas keeper, Ray Burse will be filling in as he has to date.

So, looking at the matchups, Andy Najar has the best chance going up against a rookie from Indiana on that side of the field. Ngwenya and Wolff, and certainly Davies, all have the speed and savvy to trouble Julius “red card” James, and even Chad Marshall can be troubled by speed as well if United is able to send their forwards repeatedly behind the defense as this team seems created to do. Even solid, effective pros, McCarty and Simms should have an advantage over the mercurial Ekpo and the new to MLS, Rusmir.

On the other side of the ball, the bull, Renteria and the brutally effective Mendoza could seriously trouble the casual Jakovic and certainly steamroll the rookie Kitchen, so that is a concern. As is the wily Gaven going against Burch or Woolard, and Robbie Rogers is a handful too, but then again, Zayner has played against him as often as anyone having spent two years in Columbus before coming to DC. Still, Columbus has had trouble finding the back of the net this pre-season, and perhaps that continues.

Looking at the trends, DC has certainly not done well against the Crew in RFK lately, having been swept by them to the tune of 3 losses last year including being knocked from the Open Cup semis. In fact, DC has lost 4 of the last 5 league matches against the Crew here in RFK since 2006, having only beaten them by an Emilio miracle late in 2009. However, the main architect of those recent losses, Schelotto, is gone, and historically DC has owned the Crew in RFK going 15-6-3 since 1996, and outscored them 49-33 even including their recent poor run.

Even better, for merely the 4th time in 15 years, DC United is hosting their season opening game and United hasn’t lost a home season opener since the debacle in 2000 against LA going 2-0-1 since then most recently tying NY in 2006 after beating SJ and KC in ‘04 and ‘01 respectively. In addition, United has lost only 4 home openers total since the loss to the Galaxy in the first ever United match in RFK. Prior to last year’s home opening loss to NE, DC was 6-2-5 in home openers since 1996.

So there you have it. Home openers are huge in MLS, and RFK is a tough place to find a victory under normal circumstances (excluding last year from the mind completely), and this team seems poised to reverse their fortune from last year too, and there’s no question the RFK faithful will explode with delight if United shows they have put last year behind them. Both teams seem likely to score, but United has to be a one goal favorite. Fingers crossed.

United not standing Pat after disastrous 2010 season

Much like any other sport that one follows religiously, when a team has a season like D.C. United had in 2010, everyone is baying for the moon. They want heads chopped and throats cut from the top of the organization all the way down to the equipment manager. In short, they want wholesale changes.  Normally changes of the roster in massive quantities don’t always fix the problems (see MetroStars/Red Bull circa 2002-2009). In fact, in most cases it makes the problem worse. Be careful what you wish for.

Making Moves

Well, in this instance United is certainly taking that path with a number of moves already before the New Year to help the Black-and-Red pull out of their funk. The first move towards restoration was trading promising defender Rodney Wallace and a  2011 4th round MLS SuperDraft pick to the Portland Timbers for midfielder Dax McCarty and allocation money. McCarty, the first player selected in the Expansion Draft last month, is a two-way midfielder with good skill who can get forward to support the attack. Considering United played most of 2010 with a dual defensive midfielder setup, having a player that can score goals and set them up is a plus. Just imagine McCarty being in the scoring positions that Stephen King found himself in last season. I dare say McCarty would have converted more than one of the golden opportunities at the foot of King.

Olsen Named Coach

The next move was to install Ben Olsen as the full-time Head Coach of United. Just six weeks removed from being told that Olsen was “not a candidate” by team President Kevin Payne, Olsen was indeed the man named to move United forward. While most United fans look at this move as one that Olsen deserves, it’s not really looked upon in the same light outside of the United family. Most MLS fans look at this as another move by the front office in DC that will backfire and not bear fruit. Their reasoning being that Olsen is too inexperienced and this overhaul needed to be supervised by an experienced coach. While that may be true, you won’t find a person more dedicated to restoring United’s past glory than Ben Olsen.

More Help for United

Up next for the Black-and-Red was the complicated Re-Entry Draft held over the course of two weeks in early December. United, in need of any offensive help they can get, selected forwards Joseph Ngwenya and Josh Wolff in the first two rounds respectively. While I will spare you the dizzying details of how the Re-Entry Draft and their multitude of rules and stipulations work, essentially United got Ngwenya for about $75,000 and Wolff for slightly more (no details given on his salary, but if one had to guess, I would say it’s at least half of his reported $200,000 salary from 2010). While neither player will blow you away with their goal scoring prowess from 2010 (1 goal for Ngwenya, 3 from Wolff), they are infinitely better options than the departed Danny Allsopp and the let-loose Jaime Moreno. I realize that last part seems blasphemus on it’s face, but Jaime hit the wall with a major thud last season and the front office made the unpopluar but correct choice in cutting ties with the legendary Bolivian.

Most, if not all, of United’s attacking problems can be traced to their collective lack of pace from midfield to the forward line. I’m not just talking foot speed, but speed of thought and moving the ball from defense to the attack more quickly. Ngwenya and Wolff won’t be confused with Luciano Emilio (in goal scoring terms) or Christian Gomez (out and out attacking the goal) anytime soon, but their pace and ability to get behind defenses could be a welcome change for United and give them an option they haven’t had in years in DC. Hopefully their contributions can help make this team a more difficult team to defend rather than the one-dimensional team this club has been for the past 3 seasons.

Academy Stikes Again

United may have pulled off another great pick when they signed former Academy defender Ethan White from the University of Maryland. With Hamid, Conor Shanosky and 2010 Rookie of the Year Andy Najar already in tow, United bolsters their back line depth with the sophomore from Maryland. White, had he chosen not to sign with United and enter the MLS SuperDraft, most likely would have been a first-round pick. Thus United in essence will have two first-round picks (in combination with their #3 overall pick). White is a pacy and strong defender much in the mold of current teammate Julius James, but perhaps with a bit more skill. MLS rules stipulate that any player that has been developed in their academy for at least one year, has the opportunity to sign with that club straight onto the roster. If that player passes up signing with their affiliated team, they can go into the SuperDraft and be eligible to be selected by any team.

One and Done

Another key move made just this past week saw goalkeeper Troy Perkins moved to the Portland Timbers for their goalkeeper Steve Cronin and allocation money. Perkins did not have a grand return to DC this past year and seemed to epitomize United’s downtrodden play by alternating decent efforts in goal with some real stinkers. It got to a point that United made the move to put Academy player Bill Hamid in goal for a number of matches before his season came to an end with a shoulder injury that plagued him all season long. Hamid will now battle for the #1 spot with Cronin, who played very well in his brief spell with United at the end of the 2009 season. The trading of Perkins puts an end to one of the worst trades the club has made in their history in terms of what was given up to get him back to DC. Last January United traded Fred, allocation money and the #7 pick in the SuperDraft (which ended up being forward Jack McIllnerny) for Perkins. While United was desperate for a #1 goalkeeper, they simply gave up way too much to get him back. With the trade now of Perkins, they have at least gotten back allocation money (and also got allocation money from Portand for the McCarty deal) that they can apply to perhaps getting an international striker to come in and help United out next season. In essence, allocation money extends your salary cap for the season (said to be around 2.7 million this upcoming season).

Outsider Help

The team roster wasn’t the only place where United gained some new faces. Pat Onstad, the goalkeeper for years for the Houston Dynamo, announced his retirement and has come on board as the 2nd assistant to Olsen’s staff. Chad Ashton was retained as the #1 assistant while Mark Simpson and Kris Kelderman have left the club for other opportunities. Onstad will help with goalkeepers but won’t strictly be their coach. Getting a fresh perspective from someone “outside the United family” could be very beneficial for United as they look to get out of the cellar of MLS.

More Help On the Way

With the MLS SuperDraft coming up on Thursday, January 13th at the Baltimore Convention Center, United has a chance to add a real impact player to their team as they hold the #3 pick overall. Only United would be unlucky enough to finish bottom of the league in a year that see’s two expansion teams coming into the league (Vancouver #1 pick, Portland #2 pick) and keeping them from the #1 overall pick.

With a talented group of yet unnamed Generation Addidas underclassmen eligible for the draft, United will have some tough choices to make if some of the players expected to come out early do. One possible scenario could see United choosing between three talented playes such as Omar Salgado, Darlington Nagbe and Kofie Sarkodie. Salgado, a 6-foot 3 inch 18 year old striker oozing with skill and talent. Nagbe, an Akron forward who is equally comfortable running behind defenses as he is orchesrating in a withdrawn role and Sarkodie, the Akron defender who seems to be the most ready to play out of all three of them.

This will be a very difficult decision for United as they have needs offensively (as evident by their league record shattering 21 goals scored in 2010) as well as on the defensive line. Let’s just assume that the choice is between Nagbe and Sarkodie. I feel United really couldn’t go wrong with either player, but you have to ask yourself what is United’s greatest and most pressing need? To me it’s easy. It’s offense. While Sarkodie is a future National Team starter at right back (that’s right, I said it), Nagbe can really give this team some punch in the attacking third of the field. Salgado, if chosen, would be more of a project but we’ve already witnessed what a young attacking player can do when given the opportunity (Najar). So maybe they go with Salgado? Who knows but I do know they will be getting an impact player with that pick.

As for the rest of the draft, unless United makes a trade to move up from their late second-round selection, then it’s really a crapshoot in terms of what they can get. The scouting that Dave Kasper, Ben Olsen and Chad Ashton have been doing during the College Cup and will be doing during the upcoming Combine in January will tell us a lot about their philosiphy and what kind of player they want to pull on the United kit.

International Help

With United parting ways with Allsopp during the winter, United has a few spots to fill and none will be bigger than in the attacking half of the field. Most people seem to think that United will be shopping for a foward once the January transfer window opens up. With only Pablo Hernandez and Adam Cristman remaining from their forward corps (not including Chris Pontius or Santino Quaranta whom I consider tweener players) and the addition of Ngwenya and Wolff, that still is not enough to strike fear in MLS opponents. With rosters increasing to 30 players and reinstitution of the Reserve League, plenty of roster spots are up for grabs.

End Game

So what does all this movement mean? Who’s to say but I will concede that the personnel on and off the field brought in so far is a complete upgrade from last season. With a transfer window and a SuperDraft to mine, United is far from done making moves and while the the team still has a few core players left, it will look noticably different from last season. Will that be a good or a bad thing? In MLS just about anyone can go from worst to first and United feel that these moves along with more to come will put them back where they feel they belong, at the top of MLS.

Olsen’s debut doesn’t resonate, United lose 1-0 in New England

The coach may have changed, the talk prior to the match may have been more positive, but at the end of the day the team’s major deficiency reared it’s ugly head in their 1-0 loss to New England tonight at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts.

Pat Phelan’s headed goal in the 43rd minute was all the home side needed as the frustration continued to mount on the evening for the Black-and-Red. United, not unlike their previous match against the Revolution (a 2-0 loss), had the lions share of possession but their futility in front of goal has haunted this team every step of the way. United suffered a team-record 13th shutout against tonight and they seem well on their way to shattering the league record of 15 shutouts set by the expansion Toronto FC in 2007.

United has 11 matches remaining to avoid that dubious record as well as two other significant marks of ineptitude. United has only 12 goals in 19 matches and they need to score 13 to equal the record of 25 set by Red Bull. United is also on course to not make the league record of 21 points for a season.

United striker Pablo Hernandez had a couple of chances including the game’s best chance in the second half when Branko Boskovic put him through in on Matt Reis. Hernanadez was under pressure from Cory Gibbs but was unable to slot the ball on either side of the onrushing Reis to keep the Revolution in the lead.

Stephen King and Adam Cristman both had good opportunities to level the match late on but in true 2010 fashion, United were not able to capitalize.

Onalfo Fired, Olsen Named Interim Coach

In a surprising move since it is the first time in DC United’s 14 year history United has fired a coach in mid-season, the team sacked Curt Onalfo barely 8 months after hiring him. Ironically, the firing comes nearly a year to the day when he was fired by Kansas City in his only other coaching stint.

Still, however surprising that the team that prides itself on being right all the time actually pulled the trigger on a move which could easily be interpreted as an admission of it being a mistake to hire Onalfo in the first place, there is certainly plenty of justification for his dimissal.

With Onalfo in charge and hired specifically to return the team back to the playoffs while continuing the tradition of playing attacking soccer, the team failed at both miserably. Sitting last in the entire league at 3-12-3, the playoffs are all but an impossible goal barely into August, even worse, the team’s pathetic offense is long past setting team records for futility and is boring on steadily toward league marks for ineptitude.

Both sides have gone to great pains to downplay the move as being simply the result of a bad situation. Onalfo has certainly taken the high road in this quote from the Insider where he says “I am extremely disappointed. It takes a long time to build something, and having had eight short months, it was a limited amount of time, but I understand the profession. This is what I signed up for. I wish nothing but the best for the organization.”

Payne was just as gracious in a release from the team “This was a difficult and painful decision,” said United President and CEO Kevin Payne. “Curt is an outstanding person and a fine coach. This has certainly been a trying season, made more so by a number of factors outside of anyone’s control. This decision is not about placing blame, but about looking forward. Recent performances have convinced us that we need to make a change at the top for the team to improve the remainder of this season, for 2011 and beyond. We wish Curt nothing but the best.”

It’s a good thing Payne backed away from scape-goating Onalfo or placing blame because there certainly is plenty of blame to go around from top to bottom in this organization. From the product on the field to poor roster building and management to building a stadium to finding investors, DC United is clearly a team in crisis that might finally be realizing big changes need to be made in order to get the team back to its former greatness.

Clearly, the path back is going to start small, though with getting back to square one and simply producing a good team on the field that has a hope of scoring goals, winning games, and maybe winning back fans who have shown their displeasure with DC United’s hideous season by simply staying home. Attendance at RFK has been anemic and trending down as the third year out of the playoffs has become inevitable.

Payne has made clear what he expects from interim coach Ben Olsen. “The first priority in appointing an interim coach was ensuring that he would understand the passion, pride and commitment expected from every player who wears a D.C. United uniform,” Payne said. “There is no one better suited for that task than Ben Olsen. We’ve asked Ben to focus on three objectives for the balance of this season: prepare to win the next game, demand of our players the same commitment to the shirt that he displayed and determine which players demonstrate that they want to play for United next season.”

Of course winning “the next game” has been a bit of a problem this year with only three wins in 18 games, but new signings Branko Boskovic and Pablo Hernandez, as well as the return to health of some key players like Chris Pontius and Dejan Jakovic, plus the outstanding debut of Andy Najar does seem to hold promise that United might be on the edge of becoming a competent team even if there’s little on the horizon this year outside the hope of winning the US Open Cup. But, that would be a huge accomplishment in this down year especially as it would help propel the team back into international competition next year.

For certain Olsen will bring the requisite passion back to the club. No disrespect to Onalfo, but his wishy-washy ever positive disposition clearly wasn’t exactly lighting a fire under United so far this season. The fiery Olsen has never been known to hide his emotions nor his opinions. It remains to be seen how the team responds to what is likely going to be some brutal honesty, or even if United has the talent and skill to get to a higher level, but no question Olsen will be pushing them.

As a player, Olsen was clearly talented, but he also never shied away from scrapping and grubbing for every advantage. Even to the point of completely reinventing himself as a player when his ankles betrayed him and undermined his natural athletic gifts. In some ways, DC United seems to feel themselves above scrapping and grubbing when push comes to shove and that lack of conviction is reflected in their record, while teams like NE for example, are still keeping themselves above water despite arguably less talent. If Olsen can change that mentality alone, it will be an enormous achievement in this dismal season.

Olsen is under no pretenses about what is expected either as his statement confirms. “It is with mixed emotions that I accept this position,” Olsen said. “Curt is a great friend and coach from whom I’ve learned a great deal. My job now is to get results for D.C. United.”

Teams often get a bump when a coach is fired since players now know they are next in line for the axe as Payne’s ominous last comment reinforces. How United responds this weekend in New England might go a long way to showing exactly how much ability and desire this team actually has and what Olsen has to work with the rest of this season.

O for O – Curt out Ben in

D.C. United announced today the club has named Ben Olsen as interim Head Coach, following the dismissal of  Curt Onalfo. D.C. United’s Technical Director, Chad Ashton, will serve as interim Assistant Coach, while Assistant Coaches Kris Kelderman and Mark Simpson will retain their roles with the club.

“This was a difficult and painful decision,” said United President and CEO Kevin Payne. “Curt is an outstanding person and a fine coach. This has certainly been a trying season, made more so by a number of factors outside of anyone’s control. This decision is not about placing blame, but about looking forward. Recent performances have convinced us that we need to make a change at the top for the team to improve the remainder of this season, for 2011 and beyond. We wish Curt nothing but the best.”

Read More on Mike’s recent editorial

Ben Olsen Announces Retirement

DC United’s Ben Olsen announced his retirement from professional Soccer today.

United’s midfielder was part of DC United for 12 years, will be missed by fans.

United’s midfielder expressed feeling some anxiety about the future and expressed tremendous gratitude towards his teammates and DC United, “I was a product of good Coaching” Olsen said, “I played with great players and was a product of a great organization. I’m very grateful to all those who have contributed in making my career.”

When asked about his future he said that he “would NOT like to be considered for the head coaching Job. But as far a s a role with the club, that is one of the options that may be available later on.”

From the beginning Olsen became a fan favorite. His tremendous energy on and off the field was contagious and quickly became a source of energy for the fans. Today is certainly a sad day for DC United and its fans.

Mayor Adrian Fenty, although not present at Ben Olsen’s retirement issued a proclamation naming November 24, 2009 as Ben Olsen Day in the District of Columbia.

From all of us at and from all DC United fans out there we wish Ben and his family the best of luck in the future.

Ben Olsen Gallery

[slidepress gallery=’ben-olsen’]

Photos: Martin Frnandez

Q and A with Soehn and Olsen

Head Coach Tommy Soehn

How are things going for the team?
“Good! The starting points are pretty good for everybody fitness-wise. The attitudes have been great – they’ve been putting in the work.”

Speaking of fitness, Coach (Mark Simpson) mentioned that the team will be taking a different approach this year, a more technical approach. Can you explain that? Is the different approach because there were so many injuries last year?
“I think when you evaluate last year, we had so many injuries, and the amount of games that we had, that you were asking the healthy guys to do more. It really stretched them out and you wear them out.”

“It was a combination of things. So, we made sure in this off season that we evaluated everything to see what we could do to make it better for everybody. One of the things that will help that is having a deep team and avoiding injuries.”

“We’re doing a lot of research. We making sure that we don’t over-train, and that we train in the right ways.”

Last year you brought in several players and now they are gone. What was the problem? Were they the wrong players? Was it bad chemistry?
“Coming into this league, especially for foreigners, it’s difficult. It’s a very athletic league, and with the amount of travel you do, and that you play in the summer months it’s a hard adjustment. So, we felt that building the core around the guys that have been here . . . we have a good core of guys.”

“At the end of last year because of the injuries, we had to build from the bottom up. It made us a lot better team.”

Are you going to make the key of this team that group of guys that have been around for the last couple of years? Or are you still looking to bring in a “big name” player? A designated player?
“I think . . . . We always leave our options open. But when you look at some of the guys that you have on this team, you have MVPs. You got guys that make the guys around them better. I think so much needs to be said about the team and not the individual.”

“I’m real confident with the guys that we have, that one, we’re good offensively, and that we’ve got to do better defensively. We let in a lot of goals.”

Was that the problem last year?
“There were a lot of things that we had to adjust to – different line ups, new keeper. There was a lot of ‘newness’ and with CONCACAF on us we didn’t have a lot of time to be patient and work on things. This year it is refreshing that we don’t have to go through that.”

You talk about the depth of the team. One of the biggest changes is the league getting rid of the Reserve League. How is that going to affect this year’s squad going forward?
“In reality we’re still twenty-four deep. A lot of those guys that aren’t back or won’t have a roster spot were guys that were on the bubble. The Reserve League was valuable for them.”

“We’ve opened up two senior roster spots and you can put in guys that you have faith in. It’s a reality. It’s made competition for our spots tough. We’re going to have some decisions to make after spring training.”

One of those decisions is going to be Ben Olsen. What have you discussed with him about his role with this team?
“I think first and foremost that we have to make sure in the future that he’s able to play. You take one day at a time. . . . One step at a time. . . . He’s been doing really well and his body is healing. In the process he’s been able to make it through quite a few training sessions, so that’s encouraging.”

“We’re going to make sure that we’re not rushing him. He’s always been honest and open with us when we’re doing too much.”

“In the short amount of that we’ve been together, you can always tell a difference when Ben plays. We missed that desperately last year – the enthusiasm and the energy and the experience that he brings.”

Jaime Moreno, the heart and soul of this team, he is 34 years old. Do you have plans to limit his playing this year?
“Well, I think that Jaime has come out of the couple of surgeries . . . .more like oil changes . . . . he’s come back really strong. He’s done a lot of work on that to make sure that he’s recovered all of his strength in those areas.”

“Unfortunately, last year, we had to push him more than we wanted to. In an ideal world you want to manage Jaime and be able to pick and choose . . . to set him up to be successful. So of that is limiting his playing time, such as not playing him on ‘turf.’”

“From what I’ve seen so far, we should have that ability this year. We should have that option this year.”

Last year the team owners said something to the effect that winning internationally was one of, if not the, goal of the team. Have the team decided what the strategic goals are for this season?
“We always set our goals to accomplish a lot in all the competitions. The reality is that it is very difficult. It left a bitter taste in our mouths about CONCACAF. And a lot of that had to do with the officiating. It wasn’t very fair.”

“I think this year our goal is to be back on top of the league. The rest of it all comes along with that. Obviously winning the Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup are big for us. We want to establish ourselves as a power in the league.”

What are your goals for the team through pre-season? What should people be looking for?
“The first one (camp) is a little bit more fitness related. This group is very honest group. We can do a lot of that through playing, which excites me. We need to make sure that we come together as a group in this first one. There are a lot of new faces and trialists here and we have to make sure that everyone has a good understanding of each other . . . and knowing what it is to be a team.”

“The second one will be to bring the team even closer, but now it is tactical.”

“And the third one is the one that it all comes together.”

And finally, the question you hate to answer, what inactive or retired player do you want on this team right now? Last year you picked Beckenbauer.
“Well, it can’t be active .. . . That’s always a tough one to answer! Right now I’m happy with what we have . . . I’d have Peter Nowak.”

Midfielder Ben Olsen

How are you feeling?
“I’m feeling OK. It’s good to be back playing even though it is somewhat limited as far as not being able to play everyday.”

“The ankle is cooperating . . . it feels great. It’s good to be back with the boys and competing.”
“When you’re hurt, you’re part of the team, but you’re really not. It’s nice just being out there working with the boys.”

You worked out this morning, but decided to sit out this afternoon. Why?
“We did the training last night and it held up. This morning it was pretty sore, but it warmed up enough to get through a training. This afternoon it wasn’t going to go.”

“It’s about managing myself so that I don’t get too sore . . . so I don’t put myself back a couple of more days. By taking off this afternoon hopefully I can have one good training tomorrow.”

Have you made THE decision that you will definitely play through this season? Is there a date?
“I’m fully prepared to go through the season. In what role and what capacity has yet to be determined.”

Have you talked to Tommy Soehn about that?
“Yeah, we’ve discussed it! He’s been great. I think he trusts that when I can play I will do everything I can to impact the team in the right way, whatever role that may be.”

“We’re all kind of feeling this thing out. This is a new thing for me, and probably a new thing for them – dealing with a guy who can’t play everyday.”

“I hope to get it to a point where I can train everyday. But, right now, in pre-season, the two-a-days, we’re going to have to pick and choose some times to take the load off it.”

You’ve been a starter with this team pretty much since day one. Are you prepared to be a “super sub?”
“Again, in my mind, right now, is to be a positive influence on this team. If that means me playing twenty minutes, and helping shore up a lead, or if it’s me needing to fill in for an injury . . . . If I become a starter and can do that role every now and then . . . .”

“I’m dealing with a mind frame of, ‘I shouldn’t be playing!’ I was prepared to retire and prepared to not play this game ever again. Anything at this point is really exciting. The prospect of stepping on the field ever again is very exciting again. So, whatever that’s going to be, that’s going to be up to Tommy and the coaching staff.”

“I’ll be honest with them, and they’ll be honest with me. We’ve got a good relationship. It’s a type of thing that we can work out.”

This team has changed again. How that affected the team? How has it affected the chemistry?
“Chemistry doesn’t always mean that it’s been a team that has been together for three years. Chemistry can happen right away if it’s the right group of guys. Last year wasn’t the right group of guys. For whatever reason it just wasn’t the right group that was going to get that team to the next level.”

“I think they’ve made some commitments to some of the guys that have been here for a little bit now. I think our core base is held over now for a couple of years – ‘Luci’ (Emilio), Fred, Namoff, Jaime (Moreno), myself, Devon (McTavish), Burch, Clyde (Simms) that’s ten guys that have been here for a couple of years playing.”

“You’re always looking to keep that core base . . . . keep what your team is about. And you’re always looking for new pieces. We’ve got a couple of nice ones that are going to fit in on the field and chemistry-wise.”

What does this team have to do this year to wash away last year’s problems?
“Obviously we need to defend better. We scored some goals last year. There was a stretch that we even looked pretty good. But overall, defensively we weren’t together. It seems like that we didn’t defend as a unit. We defended OK individually. But as a team we didn’t help each other out, or jell as a defensive unit. If you don’t do that you’re screwed.”

Do you feel that this team needs a “big name” player to be successful?
“DC United needs to field eleven guys that are going to win! It has nothing to do with names. We’re lucky that we don’t have to bring in any type gimmick. We’ve got a nice core of fans that want to see us win. That’s all that is important. It has always been that.”

“I think that as an organization we have learned some stuff with what was going on. But, it’s about the winning for us, not so much the juggling and the circus shows.”

What are your personal goals for the pre-season and the season?
“Personal goals? I keep saying this . . . whatever my role is I need it to be a positive influence. I need to help this team in whatever capacity. If it’s on the bench, I need to be ready to be a sub. If I’m starting, I need to be ready to do my job. If I’m doing neither, I need to be able to help the young guys. I need to do what I can do to positively affect this team.”

“I know it’s a vague answer. As far as me, personally, I need to be honest with myself this year and be smart about the times I can play and cannot play. I have a tendency to over do it because I don’t like to not play. So, I’ll put up with the pain to the point where it is painful and I’ll go again. Then all of a sudden, I’m out three days.”

“That’s the challenge I have facing me. To make sure I don’t go overboard.”