WASHINGTON—LA Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena has a special place in his heart for D.C. United boss Ben Olsen, but the greatest coach in league history admits that when he recruited Olsen at the University of Virginia, he never pegged him as a future manager.
No, not because Olsen didn’t have a brain for the game, quite the opposite actually, Arena thought that Olsen was simply too smart to ever enter coaching.
“I would not have picked him as one that would get into coaching. He’s very bright and has a personality. I thought that he would end up in business or politics instead of coaching, to be honest with you,” Arena admitted to LAGalaxy.com recently. “But he loves the game, he has a passion for the game, and in that sense it isn’t surprising that he’s gone into coaching, but he’s a guy that could do a lot of other things.”
That passion for the game was present in spades during Olsen’s illustrious 12-year career with United and still remains as he has reinvented himself as a manager for a D.C. side that finished with the best regular season record in the Eastern Conference a year ago.
Arena will match wits with his former star midfielder on Saturday when his Galaxy travel to RFK Stadium to take on Olsen’s D.C. United side.
During Olsen’s three-year tenure as head coach, United have steadily improved each year, and are once again expected to challenge for an Eastern Conference title.
Although Olsen has blossomed into an impressive coach in his own right, Arena can be forgiven for still seeing a shade of the fresh-faced young rookie who lived in Arena’s home during his first season in MLS.
“You look at his record. It’s moving forward. It shows he’s improving,” Arena said. “I’m very proud of him.”
Arena has promised to meet up for a drink with Olsen ahead of Saturday’s match, but don’t expect a heart-to-heart about the challenges of coaching a professional soccer team.
“We’re not talking about the rigors of coaching. He understands that. We don’t talk about that usually,” Arena said to reporters. “It’s not like you’re not going to visit a [reporter] and ask how to construct a sentence. That stuff is boring.”
What Arena and Olsen discuss we’ll never know, but the Galaxy boss isn’t shy about admitting his joy at the impressive rise of the United head coach.
“He’s a first-class guy. He was first class at 17 years old. Nothing’s surprising,” Arena said. “Twenty years later he remains that kind of quality person. I told him the unfortunate part is he’s probably going to end up coaching DC United for 30 years. They love him so much they’ll never get rid of him.”
Seeing one of his many protégés isn’t the only reason that visiting the District is sweet for Arena, however. After all, the nation’s capital has been awfully good to Arena over the years given all the professional and personal accomplishments that the Galaxy boss has racked up in the region.
Just don’t ask him to wax poetic about venerable old RFK Stadium though.
“I like going back to D.C. I’m not sure I like going back to RFK. It is a little beat-up, I should say?” Arena remarked with a grin. “I just think D.C. is a great city. I’ve had great experiences there. I have friends still there, a lot of connections. I like to go back but I only get to go back when we play a game there.”