After taking D.C. United not only to the playoffs for the first time in five years but to the Eastern Conference finals, coach Ben Olsen had his contract option picked up by the team, extending him through the 2014 season.
Entering his third full season in charge, Olsen already is poised to tie then surpass the longest coaching tenures in D.C. United’s history. Bruce Arena, Thomas Rongen and Peter Nowak all lasted three seasons.
United will finish the first portion of its preseason in Bradenton, Fla., on Friday morning with a friendly against Swedish side Malmo FF at 11 a.m. On Thursday the club welcomed back into training camp its three internationals – Bill Hamid, Dwayne De Rosario and Dejan Jakovic – after jettisoning trialist Demetrius Omphroy earlier in the week.
The biggest news of the week, of course, remains the transfer of Andy Najar to RSC Anderlecht. D.C. United general manager Dave Kasper said the club doesn’t have immediate plans to replace him.
“Part of comfort level was we do have guys we think can fill in,” Kasper said. “Andy wasn’t with the team for the last several playoff games, and we had success in the playoffs without him. We’ll look to find ways to make the team better to use that salary cap space to make the team better, and that may wait until July.”
Not only is the transfer abroad a huge move for the 19-year-old, it was the culmination of many years’ work for Kasper and the D.C. United staff.
“Obviously, you’re sad to see a player like that go, but you’re also very happy for him, knowing that he’s only 19, he’s got the world ahead of him,” Kasper said. “He’s got a great career ahead of him. It’s a great opportunity for him. Look, from all the days and all the hours that we spent working on Andy’s personal situation, all the air miles we traveled to help him process and eventually get him his U.S. residence – Andy’s case is very special. Our club has put in a lot of hours behind the scenes, and I’m not talking on the training ground. There’s a lot of people at our club that spent countless hours setting him up to succeed. It’s very rewarding when it all comes together, when the work that you do comes to fruition.”
Kasper credited Anderlecht for showing serious interest, and it was clear when they agreed to bring him on loan – which was what they had intended before the teams agreed to the December training stint – that they were serious about making the move permanent.
As I wrote in today’s paper, Najar’s move, along with that of Brek Shea, says a lot about Major League Soccer and what might be regarded as a new approach to the international market. It is also crucial for D.C. United, which has more young talent coming up through the ranks – the kind of talent that could easily skip MLS altogether.
“We were one of the first clubs to really get behind the homegrown player initiative,” Kasper said. “I credit Ben for playing young players. They give opportunities for young players. They’re not afraid to play young guys. There are a lot of coaches that don’t want anything to do with playing a young player. They want veterans. We’ve had a long history of developing young talent, and this is a signal to all the young, talented players in the D.C. metropolitan area that we’ll provide the proper environment and the platform for them. They just have to come here and train with us and let us guide them. And some of these players will end up playing long careers in MLS because we have a darn good league. And some players will have opportunities to go to Europe. Maybe it’s more symbolic that we can take a young, talented player, put him in the right environment and help him grow into fulfilling his full ability.”
Meanwhile, there should be news imminently on United’s official separation with forward Hamdi Salihi. With that coming, Kasper addressed what went wrong.
“I think our system morphed into more of a one striker-type system with a lot of guys underneath who can attack, the likes of [Chris] Pontius, DeRo, [Branko] Boskovic and [Nick] DeLeon,” Kasper said. “And that’s not really a role that suits him. When we first got him, we were playing pretty much a 4-4-2, and he’s a box guy, a guy that relies on a lot of service, makes his living in the box, and he’s very effective striker. He’s scored a lot of goals at some very good clubs and with his national team, and he’s going to continue having a good career. He just didn’t fit, and it’s more to do with how our system morphed. It requires that player to do a lot of dirty work, a lot of stuff that really doesn’t suit the type of player he is.”