CARSON, Calif. – It’s lately resembled a class reunion of sorts in Major League Soccer for LA Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena.
It was almost two weeks ago when Arena faced one of his former players with the National Team, Robin Fraser, now head coach of Chivas USA. Four days later it was good friend Dominic Kinnear of the Houston Dynamo. Then it was on to New England to go against another friend, New England’s Steve Nicol.
Friday’s game against D.C. United at The Home Depot Center (8 p.m., Fox Soccer, Fox Deportes) likely will hit a little closer to home, however. United are coached by Ben Olsen, another of Arena’s former players who he recruited to the University of Virginia and later signed for D.C. United. Olsen even lived with Arena’s family during Olsen’s first season with United in 1998, when he was named the MLS Rookie of the Year.
“He was a rotten kid,” Arena joked. “He used to drink beer in the basement with my son (Kenny).”
Asked if Olsen ever did any chores around the house or mowed the lawn, Arena smiled and said, “Ben wouldn’t do anything like that. He’s too elite.”
But now he’s coach of a United team that is 4-4-3 and drew 1-1 with the Galaxy earlier this season in Washington, D.C. Olsen was named permanent head coach of the club on Nov. 29, 2010, but Arena surprisingly said the 33-year-old wasn’t one of those players he pictured as a future head coach.
“I would never have imagined Ben would be a coach, to be honest with you,” Arena said. “I think he’s a guy with a lot of skills and likely had a lot of options. Although he had at least 10 years in the league, it still probably ended a little earlier than what he would have liked.
“Ben might end up being the senator from Virginia one day, who knows? He’s got a lot of other skills he could utilize as well. He would not be one of the guys I would have thought would be a coach.”
Arena, who said he last talked to Olsen a couple of weeks ago, said it was between Virginia and Harvard when he recruited him.
“He definitely wanted to come to Virginia. We didn’t know if we could get him into school,” Arena said sarcastically. “He had aspirations of playing professional soccer and he chose, maybe, the safer path athletically in terms of trying to become a professional.
“Give him credit. He had a great career that concluded with a World Cup appearance in 2006. Just fabulous. I’m not sure he would have been able to do that if he went to Harvard. He would have been a U.S. Senator if he went to Harvard.
“I don’t know if that’s good or bad. The way I’m watching politics today, he probably made the right choice.”
Galaxy player-coach Gregg Berhalter, a former teammate of Olsen on the U.S. National Team, called Olsen “a cerebral type of player.”
“He was very mobile, very active,” Berhalter said. “He was skillful as well. As he got older he started playing more toward the middle of the field and seeing the game better. I think that’s helped him in coaching.”
Galaxy associate head coach Dave Sarachan, who also coached Olsen at D.C. United and with the National Team, said he always was impressed with Olsen’s commitment to the game and likened him to a “worker bee.”
“From when the whistle blew to start the game to the time it blew to end the game, he was so involved,” Sarachan said. “His actions spoke louder than his words in terms of his heart and desire.
“He’s bright and he’s a guy that’s got a lot of interests. Whatever direction he chooses he’ll find success.”