Ben Olsen will be the next Houston Dynamo head coach, according to multiple reports. Olsen was the head coach at D.C. United from 2010-2020. To get some insight on Houston’s new boss, we spoke to Ryan Keefer from Black and Red United.
Dynamo Theory (DT): As someone who covered Olsen’s teams, what can you tell us about the formations he has used and his style of play while with D.C.?
Ryan Keefer (RK): In the past he’s used mostly a 442 with a dusting of 4231 in there every so often. Being ultra defensive tactically is perhaps a comfortable blanket for him, but if there are enough offensive guys on the field he’ll get goals from them; central midfield was the show before but that was in part because he didn’t have a lot of options for goals on the field or bench; I don’t think he’ll have to talk to guys like Zorillo Herrera, Tim Parker or Steve Clark partly because of mutual knowledge/respect, but he’ll expect some combination of them to carry whatever message he sends out of the room and onto the field.
DT: Olsen spent 10 years with United, what ultimately led to the club moving on from him?
RK: It was time, but not for the reasons you think. Look, for all of the connotations surrounding Ben Olsen, Bennyball, etc., it should be noted that for years D.C. United was poor financially, and this inevitably and unavoidably bled into the organization, so he took part in vetting any potential players that came to the team, stood in front of the microphones after all of the games and after the season (good, bad or otherwise), and was the face of a franchise whose higher decision-makers didn’t choose or declined the chance to do so. How poor was DC? Take a look at the team that won the 2013 US Open Cup (we did!), a good chunk of that team was done playing soccer in a year or so after winning. So I think that for talk of Ben Olsen as a manager, that he spent most of that time coaching at a place that literally had to have a desk fan blowing on a router to keep press box wi-fi operational during the summers should contribute some mention of his tenure in D.C. How much of that depends on the person, but as RFK and its surrounding fields evolved into Audi Field and DC’s new training site outside of town, once things got to (yet) another untenable point on-field, the decision had to be made off it for him to go.
DT: When Olsen left D.C.United, did you think we would get another head coaching job?
RK: I don’t know how sure I was, but circumstantially there certainly was a solid case if an interest were expressed; Ben Olsen’s been involved with U.S. Soccer and MLS for awhile now, and has friends in a lot of places; Dynamo GM Pat Onstad was an assistant and player under him in D.C. (fellow assistant Amos Magee is the Player Personnel Director in Minnesota), current FC Cincinnati GM Chris Albright was a teammate, he played under current New England Revolution coach Bruce Arena. He’ll have some chances to hone his skills a little more; who he chooses for his assistants could be interesting, as longtime D.C. assistant Chad Ashton is bound for reassignment. Perhaps they reunite, along with Davy Arnaud (from Austin), this is a little more of a blank slate than he had in D.C.
DT: How do you think Olsen can do in Houston, giving the assets at his disposal right now?
RK: I guess it depends on whether the other guys can become chance creators for or take the load off Sebastian Ferreira, who had a pretty good first year go ignored because nobody else on his team could either convert (cough, Memo Rodriguez) or put enough shots on goal to make him less dangerous. Trying to unlock Carrasquilla, getting another year out of Quintero are going to have to be significant mitigators for this current group to try and stop the bleeding. He’ll definitely be someone that the players can and will fight for and he’ll put trust in them to be professionals, which I think will be important for them.
DT: All in all, what do you think of the hire and how do you think Olsen will ultimately do with the Dynamo?
RK: I think part of the motivation for the hire is that Onstad thinks there’s promise within the group, and they weren’t up to the task, and I think, that he thinks, that Olsen can give them that push. While I think he can accomplish this, I also don’t think this is Dom Kinnear’s Dynamo or anything; the Western Conference is much much better top to bottom than it used to be; the Sounders and Timbers both missed the playoffs for the first time in MLS, in 2021 Sporting Kansas City was three points away from finishing first in the West for the third time in five years. Ben Olsen would probably be the first to tell you he’s not THE answer for the Dynamo, and I think his tenure will be a little better than what he put up in D.C., just that the team he’ll be managing is going to be playing a lot of really really good sides more often, which he’s going to have to be ready for from the jump.