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D.C. United’s Josh Wolff gets his kicks mentoring team’s young talent

United’s oldest player embraces his role as team’s elder statesman

- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 12, 2011

When D.C. United acquired veteran striker Josh Wolff from Sporting Kansas City in December, coach Ben Olsen and the D.C. brass knew exactly what kind of player they were getting.

At 34 years old, Wolff is the oldest field player on United's roster. He even has a couple of months on Olsen, his teammate from the 2006 U.S. World Cup squad. As such, he has embraced his role as an elder statesman on a team featuring a plethora of young talent but sorely lacking in experience.

"I would hope guys respect the way that I play and respect what I bring every day to training," Wolff said. "Part of the reason for being here and being with Benny is to speak up and make real points, whether they're ones guys want to hear or they don't want to hear."

That's not to say he isn't producing on the score sheet, though. After following up an 11-goal campaign in 2009 with a two-strike output last year while often playing out of position for Kansas City, Wolff was left available for the taking in the MLS re-entry draft, a mechanism debuted this past offseason as a limited form of free agency.

He already has matched his 2010 scoring total heading into United's Saturday night match against the defending MLS Cup champion Colorado Rapids (4-3-2) at RFK Stadium.

Wolff has formed a dynamic partnership up top for United (3-4-2) with fellow D.C. newcomer Charlie Davies. While the younger, faster Davies has used his pace to stretch defenses and create space, Wolff has dropped into midfield at times to start attacks with his on-the-ball savvy.

The chemistry was particularly evident during a 2-1 win over Seattle on May 4, when Wolff scored on a Davies assist for the first-half opener before returning the favor by setting up Davies' second-half score.

"I think we've certainly jelled a bit more than maybe some of the other combinations [of forwards] at times," Wolff said. "But for us, it's still getting opportunities, creating for ourselves, but also bringing in the rest of our team."

With that collaborative mentality in mind, Wolff often speaks of the importance of forwards' defensive responsibilities. His commitment to pestering opposing back lines with constant pressure was part of the reason the Georgia native remained in the U.S. national team picture for most of the past decade, playing in two World Cups.

"There's really no putting a value on how much our forwards are worth to us on the defensive side of the ball," United captain Dax McCarty said. "When you have good starting points with your forwards who can defend and work hard for you, it really sets the tone for the rest of the team."

Now in the twilight of his career, which has featured 13 MLS seasons and a brief European stint with Germanys 1860 Munich, Wolff isn't a player who is going to go 90 minutes every match. With two games in four days last week, Olsen elected to bring him off the bench for Saturday's 0-0 tie with Dallas, noting Wolff "isn't a spring chicken anymore, and you got to be smart with guys like that."

But in recording seven starts in United's first nine contests, Wolff has shown he still has plenty left in the tank while also, as expected, imparting his years of wisdom on United's young core.

"We want to challenge each other," Wolff said. "We want to get the team better, and my role is certainly to play and provide something on the field. But it's also to provide something in training, and in the locker room as well."

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