D.C. United: Onstad running from retirement

D.C. United: Onstad running from retirement
March 18, 2011, 9:05 pm
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Friday, March 18, 2011 5:16 PM

By Sebastian Salazar
Staff Writer
CSNwashington.com

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Retirement is supposed to be a daunting proposition for professional athletes, but not Pat Onstad. The veteran of more than 20 seasons of pro soccer was ready to hang up his cleats. After playing over 2,000 minutes for Houston in 2010, Onstad was ready for more time with his family and a new career, Onstad signed on to replace Mark Simpson as D.C. United's goalkeeping coach.

And then came the injuries.

20-year-old Bill Hamid was slow to recover from offseason shoulder surgery. Then backup Steve Cronin broke his wrist during preseason training. Suddenly the cupboard was bare.

"At that stage we had exhausted about as many avenues as we could to try and get a goalie in here, we had a couple turn us down and I think that was disappointing," Onstad recalled of the mounting issues in goal.

With rookie Joe Willis left as D.C.'s only option between the pipes, first-year head coach Ben Olsen - he himself somewhat recently retired - turned to Onstad. The former Canadian international, now happily settled into his new role, didn't exactly jump at the opportunity.

"My first reaction was no, my first reaction was 'I'm retired'," Onstad said with a laugh at Wednesday's Kickoff Luncheon. "Unfortunately for me a big part of my game is coming into preseason ready to go, and I had spent two months not preparing. That was the hardest thing."

With the support and patience of the club's front office, Onstad went to work. Uneasy about not being prepared, Onstad told Olsen he'd need at least two weeks to see if his body could jolt itself out of 'retirement mode'. D.C.'s trip to California served as the first test for Onstad's comeback, and two-a-days in South Carolina confirmed that - even at 43-years-old - Onstad was United's best bet in goal.

"It didn't take him long to switch back into player mode, he's a very sharp guy, very motivated and disciplined in the way he lives," said Olsen. "I think he put a lot of effort, maybe too much at first, but now he's in a very good rhythm. He helps us in a big way with that back four."

Relying on Onstad in goal, did create some more work for Olsen. Onstad made it clear that he needed to be distanced from the playing time decisions that come with being a coach. Though he still runs goalie training, Onstad no longer has input as far as which netminder fits where on United's depth chart. It's a responsibility Onstad acknowledged he had to relinquish in order to do what was best for the club.

"I can run training, but I can't be the one that sits there and says he should be playing or I should be playing," Onstad admitted. "That's been crystal clear to the goalies, that that decision has been taken out of my hands."

How long Onstad remains as United's top choice in goal remains to be seen. Hamid practiced at full speed for the first time Wednesday and figures to be the long-term solution in goal for D.C. Until Hamid's return however, Onstad remains linked to some famous un-retirees, a connection that has made him the punch-line of some jokes in the United locker room.

"A lot of guys who make comebacks, it's not necessarily a morally great group," joked Onstad with a smile. "I don't like the Brett Favre or Michael Jordan comparisons. I'm trying to think of good guys to come back, like Gordie Howe."

Onstad and his teammates take on the Columbus Crew Saturday night at RFK. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p. m. and the game will be televised live in HD on Comcast SportsNet.