By AVI CREDITOR
WASHINGTON – After officially completing his 180-degree turn about his stance on D.C. United's head coaching situation, team president and chief executive officer Kevin Payne insisted that Ben Olsen was the man for the job all along.
The 33-year-old Olsen was officially introduced as D.C. United's head coach Monday at RFK Stadium, shedding the interim label that he carried for the final 12 games of the regular season.
The introduction came just months after Payne claimed publicly that Olsen would not be the head coach of the team in 2011 and that he wanted him to be more experienced and put in a position to succeed with his first head coaching gig.
"My earlier comments notwithstanding whether or not Ben would be the head coach, Dave (Kasper, DCU general manager) and I independently came to the conclusion that the best candidate for the job was Ben," Payne said.
Olsen, who retired from his playing career almost a year to the day of his appointment as head coach, went 3-8-1 after taking over for the dismissed Curt Onalfo in August. More importantly, though, he earned the trust and respect of his players, some of whom used to be his teammates, while getting the team to play hard as a lost season wound down.
The highlight of his interim stint was a 1-0 victory over the eventual MLS Cup champion Colorado Rapids at Dick's Sporting Goods Park.
"The last six months showed me I have the capabilities of leading this group," said Olsen, who signed a three-year contract with options that could extend the deal. "I'm very confident at this point that I can lead this team.
"Am I still a young coach? Are there things I need to learn? Of course. I will assemble a very experienced, knowledgable staff that will help me every step of the way."
The team confirmed that Chad Ashton will be one of Olsen's assistants, while the other two coaching staff positions have yet to be decided.
Olsen figured to be an assistant in 2011 after Payne seemingly ruled out the possibility of him maintaining his post as head coach in the aftermath of United's historically bad season.
"I knew all along he was bluffing," Olsen deadpanned. "I was flattered and honored. I was surprised. I was fully prepared to go back into an assistant coach role and continue learning the trade. That's not what I wanted. I was always hopeful."
Payne admitted to interviewing "at least half a dozen candidates" during the hiring process. He refused to acknowledge whether he offered the job to anybody else before ultimately hiring Olsen, though he was steadfast that finances had nothing to do with the decision.
"Ben asked me early in the process to keep an open mind despite my earlier posture," Payne said.
"As we spent more and more time talking with Ben about how we would try to improve our team, what we thought we needed to add to our team positionally and in terms of character, it gradually became more and more apparent to each of us that Ben had already grown substantially as a coach in the short time at the helm of our team."
Olsen takes charge of a team that struggled in just about every aspect of the game while battling a never-ending injury bug that claimed numerous would-be starters.
The addition of Dax McCarty should provide a boost to the midfield at RFK Stadium, a spot where Olsen used to roam during the D.C. glory days.
Kasper, who divulged that D.C. only spoke to Portland and not Dallas about acquiring McCarty, said that Olsen had a hand in the decision to bring in the industrious midfielder.
Between McCarty, reigning Rookie of the Year Andy Najar and a fit Chris Pontius, a few appealing pieces are in place, though the obvious lack of a potent striker and defensive depth is something the team will look to address in the coming months.
"We all believe we have the nucleus of a very good team," Payne said. "With some additions, we think we have the pieces in place to become a good team and challenge for a playoff spot."
Added Olsen: "I don't think that playoffs are out of the question next year. It's a realisitc goal and something that can be achieved. We have a way of playing here at D.C. United – maybe not as of late – that I want to get back to."