The Washington Spirit announced today that Ben Olsen, after a long career with D.C. United as a player and coach, has been named the club’s new president. Olsen, 44, takes over the role just under a year after his decade-long tenure coaching United ended.
“I have loved being part of the D.C. United family for over 20 years, and I will always be grateful to the club that has given me so much,” said Olsen in a press release from the Spirit. “However, it is time for a new challenge for me and the opportunity to help grow the Spirit, soccer in the city I love, and the women’s game was too great to pass up. The Spirit squad is an exciting team, and the NWSL is on the rise. I am eager to get to work building on that momentum to help bring another title to DC and deepen our responsibility to the DMV community and our fans.”
Olsen’s duties, according to the club, will include overseeing “day-to-day operations, driving the development of the team’s business and sporting operations, and the overall effort to enhance the club’s culture and identity.”
Olsen’s decorated career as a player included eight trophies with United, as well as a Gold Cup and an appearance at the 2006 World Cup with the USMNT. As a coach, he won the 2013 US Open Cup, and was named the 2014 Coach of the Year in MLS.
In the Spirit’s release, Steve Baldwin — who was referred to simply as “owner” amid a reported power struggle within the Spirit’s ownership group between him and Y. Michele Kang — said that the club is “proud to bring Ben Olsen into the Spirit family. Ben has been a legendary player, coach, and executive in the DC soccer world. He is truly a soccer icon in the Nation’s Capital. As importantly, he has been an engaged community builder in the DMV. The Spirit will benefit from his energy, ideas, leadership, and history competing on the international stage and winning championships for DC, as we pursue another for the Spirit.”
Notably, of the Spirit’s major owners, only two — Baldwin and Bill Lynch — are named. Steven Goff of the Washington Post has reported that Kang was not told that the announcement, much less the hiring, was coming:
This is a Steve Baldwin move, I'm told, and Michele Kang was kept in the dark.— Steven Goff (@SoccerInsider) September 2, 2021
Olsen steps into a situation that finds the Spirit mired in various controversies. The club recently said it was moving Richie Burke from a head coaching role and into a front office post only for it to come out that he had been fired and/or suspended by the club due to an investigation into extensively reported abuse allegations. The club also terminated its relationship with club president Lindsay Barenz in a move announced to club employees less than two weeks ago.
That came ahead of the ownership struggle, and just this past weekend, the club garnered more tough headlines after forcing fans to take down a banner calling on Baldwin to sell his stake in the club.
Olsen’s presence in the D.C. soccer scene would make it clear that the Spirit have solid knowledge of what he can bring to the table, but club investor Devin Talbott — also named in the release — told the Washington Business Journal in 2015 that they’ve been friends for years.
The challenges facing Olsen and the Spirit are not limited to the recent series of off-field news. Washington sits just inside the NWSL playoff places in 6th place, and appear set for a battle down the stretch to return to the postseason for the first time since 2016. On top of that, the business side of the club has taken a hit due to a lack of gameday revenue in 2020 and portions of 2021, and the recent news that defense/homeland security contractor Intellibridge is the team’s new shirt sponsor was met negatively by diehard fans.