DC United hires former MLS player as coach for fourth consecutive time

It would be unfair to hold Ben Olsen to the standard that Gary Smith set, taking two years and ten days to bring Colorado its first title. Or even to Jason Kreis, who took two years, six months and fifteen days to bring Salt Lake its first championship.

After all, Peter Nowak took one season to bring MLS Cup back to DC. And Frank Yallop took one of the truly godawful teams in MLS history and went from worst to first in San Jose in 2001. Compared to Nowak and Yallop, Smith and Kreis are underachieving, lollygagging layabouts.

It would also be low comedy to post that old picture of DC United posing nude, with a smarmy comment about the emperor having no clothes. Yes, Kevin Payne reversed the usual formula - he gave Olsen a public vote of no confidence, then hired him. And yes, Olsen went 3-8-1 as an interim coach, not including the Open Cup semifinal loss. And yes, right now DC United's roster consists of Dax and debris. And yes, Dax was given away for nothing by Dallas.

That's one way the appointment of a team hero can get a reaction from your fellow posters almost unanimously pessimistic. But it doesn't necessarily mean that Olsen and DC are screwed.

Sure, they probably are. But look at Jason Kreis, the previous youngest MLS coach in history. Playing one day, head coach the next. Find me one person who said "Oh, GREAT hire!" Salt Lake at the time was also a crummy team surrounded by relocation rumors. Now the Royals are respectable, downright fearsome at home.

Kreis didn't exactly to that singlehandedly, of course - I'm pretty sure he wasn't that intimately involved in building Rio Tinto. Slightly more seriously, one has to also give Garth Lagerwey credit for the on-field improvement. DC fans with long memories - there is no other kind - recall that Lagerwey was a United employee before joining Salt Lake. So hey, maybe there's someone else rattling around RFK who can help out.

And then there's Smith, who, compared to the experience Kreis and Olsen had before their promotions, was Helenio Freaking Herrera, but still had a disturbingly John Cummings-esque work history before taking over from Fernando Clavijo.

Since Peter Nowak left Washington, the cult of the former MLS player turned coach has taken a beating in recent years. And the lesson of Gary Smith might be taken in the most negative way possible - you too, disinterested MLS owner, can win a title on the cheap! A few years ago, the equivalent of the Ben Olsen hire would have been met with acclamation from the Black and Really Not That Much Red faithful.

On the bright side, like Kreis and Smith did, Olsen has a very easy act to follow. Say what you want about Curt Onalfo, but he proved his success with the Wizards was no fluke.

Sure, it's easy to say "give Olsen two years" when two more lousy seasons might conceivably be enough to doom the flagship. But I think the DC United tradition, and its extended family of former players and coaches, will come to the rescue.

Well, either that, or Freddy Adu will be Baltimore United's first player-coach in 2013.