It’s hard to remember a new MLS coaching signing who will be more unwelcome by a club’s fans than Ben Olsen becoming the new Houston Dynamo coach. Almost as hard as remembering when such a reaction was so predictable.
It’s not that Olsen doesn’t deserve a second MLS head coaching job, as The Athletic first reported on Friday he is ready to receive in Houston.
Olsen was largely responsible for DC United’s relevance during a decade when investments in the roster were below average, and while the team played at a below-average facility until the opener. Audi Field final in 2018.
His 134-87-153 MLS (WDL) overall record is truly impressive considering the rosters he’s managed, as is his ability to reach the playoffs in six out of 10 seasons in the Nation’s Capital. United had missed the playoffs in the three years before he was hired. They have now missed them in each of the two seasons since his dismissal.
But Olsen – enough or not – also has a reputation as a manager who can do more with less but not more with more, whose tactics aren’t particularly progressive and who usually loses on the big stage. Its greatest successes came in years when little was expected of DC, and its greatest disappointments (think 2013, 2017, and 2019) in years when the club had to build on the accomplishments of a previous season. . He went 0-1-4 in the playoffs in his last five years on the job.
And if there was ever a description of the kind of situation where Olsen could be unfairly judged on his second bite of the MLS apple (pun intended), it’s in Houston.
As the only MLS club in the country’s fourth-largest city and one of its largest Latino communities, Dynamo has the profile of a sleeping giant. And when, when Ted Segal became majority owner midway through the 2021 season, he promised the spending and performance of a woke.
At best, Olsen’s hire signals to most fans that such promises are without detailed vision. Olsen’s previous career suggests he might be able to restore Dynamo to a regular playoff contender, but little more. And it’s unclear whether that would move the needle in a city hugely passionate about the game, but also particularly for clubs across the border in LigaMX.
At worst, some outsiders might interpret this as a rookie born into a small network of familiarity by general manager Pat Onstad, at a time when he has yet to earn the luxury for the fan base to trust. his decisions.
The former Canada national team goaltender was Olsen’s first goalkeeper coach from 2011 to 2013. Olsen’s last goalkeeper coach, Zach Thornton, is now on Dynamo’s staff. Although not on Dynamo’s payroll, Houston native and resident Bobby Boswell is also a key figure in Dynamo’s and United’s club history, and starred with Olsen in 2004 to 2007 and for Olsen the coach from 2014 to 2017.
Whatever the real reasons Olsen is hired, it’s understandable that Dynamo fans who have seen a playoff appearance since 2014 are wary given the circumstances. It’s one thing to get a band back together, but it’s another thing to do it with this band. But what exactly has this group accomplished before?
Additionally, Olsen was allowed to achieve most of his DC accomplishments in part because of his emotional connection to the club. As a player, he won two MLS Cups at DC and remains the team’s second all-time leader, a story that helped him through a particularly miserable 2013. He doesn’t have that much weight in Texas, which further reduces his margin of error.
And finally, Olsen is the first full-time Dynamo manager who isn’t fluent in Spanish since Owen Coyle shadowed American Football Hall of Famer Dominic Kinnear. Being bilingual is definitely not a requirement to succeed as an MLS manager. But in a heavily bilingual market, that’s just another way Olsen doesn’t fit the hypothetical job description of the ideal job description for Dynamo’s manager.
Olsen can prove the Dynamo fans wrong and not only improve the club in the short term but also build lasting success beyond what he achieved at DC But the optics of it all probably mean the fans will give a much shorter rope than they could have given a different location.
That’s less than ideal at a club whose only starting point has been a playoff appearance since 2014, and whose majority owner and chief executive are in just their second season in that role. Sleeping giant or not.
From Olsen’s perspective, this may have been one of the few jobs he had serious potential to land. Or maybe familiarity with those he works with is more important at this point than the ability to survive in the long run. But if the goal is to prove he’s more than the manager he was at DC United, the situation in Houston isn’t the best launching pad.