Game changer: Ben Olsen made a smooth transition to coach

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Ben Olsen’s team’

As a coach not long removed from the game, Olsen always is open to dialogue with his players. But as forward Josh Wolff notes, “He has a picture of what he wants to see.”

It’s an image that has slowly come into focus. Since Olsen took over, he has been a driving force behind the team’s roster overhaul. Now, just three players — Hamid, center back Dejan Jakovic and midfielder Chris Pontius — remain from Olsen’s playing days.

“He’s the most passionate guy for the club,” said midfielder-forward Dwayne De Rosario, who was named league MVP after being acquired halfway through last season. “He really wants this club to be successful, and you can see that in the work he’s put in making sure he has those tools.”

In cleaning house, Olsen has cut ties with onetime teammates he had developed strong bonds with. This past offseason, United declined the options on veterans Santino Quaranta, Clyde Simms, Devon McTavish and Marc Burch, all of whom spent at least three years playing alongside Olsen.

They were conversations the young coach did not look forward to. He said his parting words with Quaranta, who played 10 seasons with D.C. and in 2008 confided in Olsen while recovering from a crippling drug addiction, were particularly trying.

“It was very, very difficult,” Olsen acknowledged. “But I always said I have to do what I believe is right for this club. I could be wrong. I have to go down this path with things I believe and do what’s right and not let my emotions sway me.”

In shaping his vision for 2012, Olsen identified experience and “bite” — attributes the squad has lacked since he stepped away from the field — as priorities. With a slew of acquisitions, including seasoned defenders Robbie Russell and Emiliano Dudar, pesky midfielder Danny Cruz, and decorated striker Hamdi Salihi, the club believes it has addressed those concerns.

“There are a lot of options that get thrown your way, and he’s very clear and he’s very disciplined in terms of the players that he wants,” general manager Dave Kasper said. “He’s very picky, very demanding, which is good.”

While the turbulent situation Olsen inherited has granted him the benefit of the doubt thus far, it would appear that grace period is ending. United are overdue for a postseason run, and he knows it as well as anybody.

“There’s more clarity in how he’s delivering himself,” said Wolff, Olsen’s Olympic and World Cup teammate. “He’s been a winner his whole life, and obviously this club hasn’t made the playoffs. That’s something that weighs on him heavily and on this organization. I don’t think he’s going to settle for some of the things maybe he settled for last year.”

Added Rongen: “The team really has become Ben Olsen’s team. And I think that’s why this year you can maybe be a harsher critic of Ben.”

Balancing act

One can assume Bruce Arena knows Olsen as well as any coach, seeing as the American soccer legend coached him at every significant stop of the player’s career, from Virginia to D.C. to the U.S. national team.

So did Arena, now leading the MLS Cup champion Los Angeles Galaxy, see the seeds of a coach in his longtime pupil?

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