Ben Olsen’s 10-year run as D.C. United coach ended Thursday. (Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
A couple of quick thoughts about two men who find themselves on opposite ends of the spectrum Thursday, George Perry III and Ben Olsen.
First of all, a big congratulations to Perry, who was announced Thursday as the 2020 winner of the Honor Award by the United Soccer Coaches.
I can’t think of anyone more deserving of it.
Perry is knowledgeable, thoughtful and a great administrator. Unfortunately, I only got to cover his Yellowjackets teams for two seasons at the UR. I remember when he brought Jerry Yeagley, his former head coach at Indiana University, to teach a soccer clinic one summer at the school.
I got to know Perry even better outside of the university. I have seen Perry for years at countless coaches conventions – the National Soccer Coaches Association of America and more recently at the renamed United Soccer Coaches event in January.
Yours truly has known Perry for some 37 years, going back, back, back to the days of when he coached at the University of Rochester.
It was the first day that I had met him that I will never forget, and it wasn’t the actual meeting that I remember.
While covering soccer for the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle in February 1983, I broke the story that Perry, then an assistant coach Indiana University, would be taking the head coaching reins at the University of Rochester. I worked several sources from Western New York to the Midwest. From what I remember, I had at least three sources.
On the day of the announcement, UR sports information director Tony Wells gave me a phony press release stating that Kyle Rote Jr. had been named coach.
After turning just about all shades green, thinking that I had blown the story, I turned to the second page of the press release and saw Perry’s name all over the place and quickly figured out it was a joke.
I was able to laugh about that experience and I have no problem sharing it with you today.
In 1998, Swing magazine (no, Swing wasn’t a publication about what you might think, it was supposed to be a hip mag for the younger generation) assigned me to write a story about U.S. Soccer’s not finding enough Hispanic talent in the grassroots. They wanted to write a story about a young American soccer player and a Hispanic one.
I decided to profile Ben Olsen, who had signed with D.C. United, and Daniel Leon, who had emigrated with his family from Peru to the U.S. before joining the Long Island Rough Riders. I did a juxtaposition between the two – an American player and a new immigrant who was trying to find his way up the soccer ladder in this country. Olsen was a Project 40 player who was allocated to United.
I flew into Dulles Airport to interview Olsen and United head coach Bruce Arena at the team’s training complex, the former Washington NFL team’s site in northern Virginia. The interviews went well. So did the 2,500-word story.
Olsen had only one problem with the article. When I mentioned that he loved to kick the ball around inside his house and almost hit a chandelier over the dinner table at his home in Middletown, Pa., he said that it made his family sound like they were rich. They were middle class.
As you probably know already, Olsen was fired Thursday after an astounding 10-year run as D.C. head coach, the third longest tenure for a coach at a club in MLS’ 25-year history.
Olsen was never middle class to me. He always has been a world class guy. I have no doubt that Olsen will find another position, whether it is within the United organization or with another soccer team.