Troy Taormina-US PRESSWIRE
As the 2013 MLS season approaches, we're counting down the days to March 2 and running the proverbial rule over each player on D.C. United's roster. Today's subject: not a player at all, but the coaching staff of the Black-and-Red.
Well, D.C. United doesn't have a number 20 on the roster at this point in time, so I figured we'd take today to look at another vital part of the team: the coaching staff. Obviously Ben Olsen as the head man is a big deal in all things United. Chad Ashton was an assistant under Tom Soehn, moved to Technical Director during the short-but-not-short-enough Onalfo Era, and returned to the sideline when Olsen took over. Josh Wolff drops the "player-slash" from his title and will be a full assistant coach this season.
Let's start at the top. Ben Olsen is obviously a young coach, just turning 35. But he's turned D.C. United around, taking over in probably the club's darkest hour and returning us to within a
blown red card call hair of the MLS Cup Final just two full seasons later. Thankfully, the front office is happy with this performance and has already exercised the option on Olsen's contract, meaning he'll be with the team through the end of 2014.
In his short time at the helm, we've already seen plenty of development in Olsen's tactics, and we have to expect that evolution to continue apace through this year. After emergency-ing his way through the end of The Season That Shall Not Be Named, Olsen instilled the 4-4-2 diamond for 2011, and used variations on it - mostly the 4-1-3-2, which involves the outside midfielders' being higher and wider on the pitch - through the middle of last year. When that system wasn't providing the possession Olsen wanted his team to control, though, he made an adjustment, picking up a target forward and dropping the other forward deeper into the midfield. And so we had last year's flatter 4-2-3-1/4-4-1-1.
The constant through the shift, though, is Olsen's underlying philosophy: out-working the other team. Olsen wants to be a possession-hoarding team - most coaches do, or say they do - and he recognizes the need for technical players to make that happen. But he also sees that to have possession a team needs to win possession, and so he puts defensive responsibilities on all 11 players. Whether this was a part of his system at the beginning of last year is more difficult to say, but it's undeniably part of it now.
As a bit of a nerd about the game, I'm really interested to see where Olsen's tactical development goes next.
To finish, let's look at a hole in the coaching ranks, goalkeepers' coach. With the departure of Pat Onstad, United has lost probably the best mentor Bill Hamid and Joe Willis could have hoped for on the staff. The team is currently working with interim faces until they fill the spot permanently. Whoever gets the job will have big shoes to fill, and we all have to hope he will push the development of our young 'keepers the way Onstad did.