Tampa Bay Sports Day

Olsen blends veterans with young DC United team

Josh Wolff was clearly DC United’s best player in their season opening 3-1 pasting of visiting Columbus last Saturday night. The Kansas City castoff was brought here by United coach Ben Olsen not only to score goals as he did against the Crew, but for his experience and professionalism to nurture yet another group of young United players.

“There is some good young talent here they have brought in from their academy, but they have brought in guys like Perry Kitchen so much more importantly. It’s one thing to tell them how to play the game but to also encourage them and now that the games have started, to have an idea how to present yourself in the game to be relied upon and be consistent and not to shy away from your weakness and make sure you are continually getting better as a pro and advancing your game,” said Wolff, a veteran of two World Cups for the United States who has now scored 76 goals as he embarks on his 14th MLS season.

“I don’t go after guys and get nitpicky but I have a bit of experience that I can shed to some of these guys. But I’m not a camp counselor either, I am here to play,” continued Wolff. “There are a lot of young guys so it’s getting in those guy’s ears, presenting what this game is about and being honest with where guys are as far as what kind of players they are and what they can do to continue and get better.”

In what seems to be an annual rite of passage for United, they have another flock of green but talented kids to run with the ones they already have that fit that same description. But one commonality is their willingness to learn.

Kitchen and other teens and 20-somethings including forward Blake Brettschneider and midfielder Conor Shanosky join the likes of Andy Najar, the 2010 MLS Rookie of the Year and goalkeeper Bill Hamid in what seems to be a promising future for a club floundering in uncertainty.

The team’s youthfulness is reinforced by the fact that Chris Pontius, Dejan Jakovic and off season acquisitions Dax McCarty, who was selected as Captain by Olsen, Charlie Davies and Rodrigo Brasesco are all 25 and under.

“Obviously you have guys like Andy who is 17, 18 and had a great experience last year and obviously eyes wide open but the cameras are on him and there comes more scrutiny and you have to duplicate what you did the first year and you have to come back and have a good second year,” said Wolff.

Kitchen was selected 3rd overall in this year’s MLS Super Draft, a steal for United in the minds of many, after a stellar freshman year at Akron. Kitchen will be with the U-20 National Team and unavailable for selection at New England this Saturday.

“He’s kind of a leader of his own which is amazing for an 18, 19 year old kid. He’s the captain of the under-20’s, but he could easily be the captain of many Major League Soccer teams,” said 43-year old goalkeeper Pat Onstad. “He’s got that demeanor about him but he is still a kid that wants to learn. So when makes mistakes, he turns around and if he is not sure why that mistake happened, he asks and he wants to pick it up, so I think he will have an excellent career.”

Despite his youth and inexperience, Kitchen has been encouraged to be vocal in tandem with Jakovic in central defense. “They have been helping us and guiding us on how to play in this league,” said Kitchen of the veteran players.

“They are telling me that this is my role, this is what you need to do; they will grab me on the side and just be like, since I am a center back, you have to communicate and make sure we are in the right position. They will be like ‘if we are too stretched out you need to pull guys in and keep us tight and keep our shape’ things like that.”

Davies and Pontius are coming off two diametrically opposed injuries that set their progress back significantly.

“As far as last year in wins it was obviously a disaster but the team’s mentality last year was still surprisingly high. We were playing for each other but there were issues last year. This year we are a deep team, obviously there are a lot of new faces, there is a lot of energy within the team,” said Pontius, 23, who missed most of last season with a severe hamstring injury.

“We are young. We’ve got a lot of players who are feisty on the field and I don’t think this team accepts losing. Benny has instilled that in us and the players have bought in-we are going to be a winning team, go on the field and do everything we can.”

Olsen not only has Wolff and Onstad but a group of young veterans who have also been willing to offer different perspectives even if their roles have been changed or diminished. Santino Quaranta will have to fight for every second on the field and Fred was left completely off the 18-man roster against Columbus.

“We’ve got guys who have now been in this league 8, 10 years that are still not that old that can also offer advice in so many avenues,” Olsen remarked. “We got a good group; a lot of them have been through different experiences; playing experiences, life experiences so I think they have a lot to offer and the young kids are very receptive, they are very moldable. They are eager to learn and they have been super.”