Playoffs a 'realistic' goal for Olsen's first year

Playoffs a 'realistic' goal for Olsen's first year
January 11, 2011, 1:39 am
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Monday, January 10, 2011 8:15 PMBy Sebastian SalazarCSNwashington.com
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Just like the year before it, Ben Olsen's 2011 begins with the former D.C. United star stepping into a new role with the struggling club.

For all involved, the hope is that this calendar year will not share the same ending as 2010.

"Now it's my team," said Olsen, with the same chip on his shoulder that made him a force in United's midfield for the better part of the last decade. "It's on me and I'm responsible for what we put out there and how our team acts."

In reality Olsen is responsible for a lot more than just product and behavior. In his first year as full-time head coach, Olsen must inspire a beleaguered fan base and restore confidence to a group of players that have missed the playoffs for three straight years. That confidence will most likely have to come from Olsen himself, who - even in January - acknowledged his own lofty expectations.

"If your goal in this league isn't playoffs, I think you have some issues," said Olsen, despite the fact that United was eliminated from the MLS postseason before the end of summer last year. "It's a league of parity and you can make the playoffs as we progress maybe those goals change, but right now I think that is a realistic goal."

Olsen's confidence is admirable, even if his particular situation is far from enviable. D.C.'s offense generated just 21 goals last season, ten less than than Chivas USA, which featured the league's second-worst offensive output. Olsen has gone about making wholesale changes to his team's attack, replacing Jaime Moreno, Danny Allsopp and Pablo Hernandez with a slew of more athletic - and hopefully more productive - players.

"We need to get faster, we need to have guys who are more committed in the box," Olsen mused last week. "We need guys that make the right runs and there may be no way they are going to get the ball or goal, but if they make the right run they take two markers with them and that's going to open something up for the team."

The team first attitude Olsen describes is something the young coach believes must extend beyond United's refurbished front line. It's one of the reasons Olsen brought in Dax McCarty with his first, and to date most exciting, move of the offseason. McCarty, who many have compared to Olsen because of his feisty style of midfield play, figures to be a large part of the culture change United is hoping for.

"I think he's a winner, I think he's a guy who does not like to lose, and that's something we need around here," noted Olsen. "I think he's a better soccer player than people give him credit for. I'm very excited to have him on board."

The upcoming MLS draft offers United yet another chance to bolster a roster that certainly needs it. McCarty's acquisition didn't come cheap, as D.C. had to part ways with potential-filled defender Rodney Wallace. On the same day they pulled off the Wallace-McCarty deal, the Black-and-Red also lost defender Jordan Graye to the expansion draft, leaving plenty of work for Olsen and the rest of the front office over the final two months of the preseason.

"I feel pretty good about where we've ended up at this point. I think we've addressed some of the issues that we've had," Olsen concluded. "We still have a piece or two that we want to add, crucial pieces. But again, I feel confident with the group we have."