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Ben Olsen suspended for D.C. United opener

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D.C. United will be without its manager for its opening game of the 2018 Major League Soccer season.

An MLS spokesperson confirmed that Olsen is suspended for the opener after being dismissed following the final whistle in D.C. United’s final match of the 2017 season, a 2-1 defeat at RFK Stadium to the New York Red Bulls. Olsen was sent off after “failure to act in a responsible manner,” according to an MLS spokesperson, which included reportedly some colorful language towards the officials. David Gantar was the center referee for that match.

[READ: Hear what DeAndre Yedlin had to say about the USMNT]

D.C. United is coming off yet another disappointing season but is set this June to move into its brand-new home, Audi Field, and ahead of the move, the club has been active in the transfer market.

The club acquired David Ousted to man the nets, as well as acquiring former Atlanta United starter Yamil Asad and Darren Mattocks to lead the attack.

D.C. United also let a number of players from last season’s squad leave, including Homegrown player Bill Hamid, Deshorn Brown, Sean Franklin and Patrick Nyarko.

U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame ballot revealed, including Beckham

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CHICAGO (AP) David Beckham, the English midfielder who brought increased visibility to American soccer and won a pair of Major League Soccer titles while playing for the LA Galaxy from 2007-12, is among 12 first-time candidates on the 33-player ballot for the U.S. National Soccer Hall of Fame.

Defender Steve Cherundolo, midfielder Pablo Mastroeni and forward Brian Ching, key parts of the U.S. national team, also are new candidates on the ballot announced Wednesday. Other first-timers include defenders Chris Albright, Danny Califf and Tina Frimpong Ellertson; goalkeepers Joe Cannon and Kevin Hartman, and midfielders Amado Guevara, Eddie Gaven and Leslie Osborne.

Defender Chris Armas and midfielder Jason Kreis, currently Orlando’s coach, are in their final year of eligibility. Former midfielder Ben Olsen, now D.C. United’s coach, is among the holdovers.

Other men on the ballot include goalkeeper Pat Onstad; defenders Gregg Berhalter, Frankie Hejduk and Tony Sanneh; midfielders Chris Klein, Eddie Lewis and Steve Ralston; and forwards Jeff Cunningham, Clint Mathis, Jaime Moreno, Ante Razov, Taylor Twellman and Josh Wolff.

Women on the ballot include goalkeeper Briana Scurry; defenders Kate Sobrero Markgraf and Heather Mitts; midfielder Aly Wagner; and forward Tiffeny Milbrett.

Voting will take place among men’s and women’s national team coaches, Major League Soccer and National Women’s Soccer league management, U.S. Soccer Federation leadership, Hall of Famers and media. Each voter can list up to 10 players, and a player must appear on at least 66.7 percent of ballots to earn election.

Among those on the builder ballot are former USSF President Bob Contiguglia; referee Esse Baharmast; coaches Gene Chyzowych, Eddie Firmani, Gordon Jago and Joe Machnik; and administrators Richard Groff, Tim Leiweke, Francisco Marcos and Kevin Payne.

The 15-player veteran ballot, voted on only by Hall of Famers, has George Best, Chico Borja, Mike Burns, John Doyle, Marco Etcheverry, Linda Hamilton, Mary Harvey, Chris Henderson, Dominic Kinnear, Shep Messing, Cindy Parlow, Tiffany Roberts, Mike Sorber, Tisha Venturini-Hoch and Roy Wegerle.

The hall’s building in Oneonta, New York, closed in 2010. A new facility in Frisco, Texas, is under construction and slated to open in 2018.

Grateful and geared up: Nyarko, DC United take aim at MLS Cup

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On Thursday, Patrick Nyarko will hit the RFK Stadium pitch with DC United for just his second playoff game of this decade, and he’s going to make sure no member of the Black-and-Red takes the opportunity for granted.

“I walked into the locker room after we clinched a spot and the guys were like, ‘Whatever’. DC had been in the playoffs the last few years,” Nyarko said with a laugh in a Tuesday conversation with ProSoccerTalk.

“I was like, ‘Guys! I’m excited, man. I haven’t been here in a while. I’m overly ecstatic.’ Hopefully we can get it together, make a run, and create something special.”

[ MORE: MLS Cup predictions ]

The 30-year-old Ghanaian international with one cap was once one of those who took team success as a given. Nyarko walked off the College Cup pitch for Virginia Tech in 2007 and was picked 7th overall by the Chicago Fire. He promptly appeared in the MLS Cup semifinals in each of his first two seasons in Chicago.

BRIDGEVIEW, IL - SEPTEMBER 22: Patrick Nyarko #14 of the Chicago Fire advances the ball on the Columbus Crew during their MLS soccer match at Toyota Park on September 22, 2012 in Bridgeview, Illinois. The Fire defeated the Crew 2-1. (Photo by John Gress/Getty Images)
(Photo by John Gress/Getty Images)

“I thought this was how things went. With the teams we had, I thought it was going to be an eternal thing and we would always enjoy these things,” Nyarko said.

It turns out postseason success isn’t as simple as that. Aside from a 2012 knockout round loss to Houston, the longtime Fire man didn’t see playoff action.

So Thursday, yeah, you can bet it’s special. After 222 regular season MLS games and 23 goals — all but 26 of them with Chicago — Nyarko is back for just his fourth playoff campaign.

“It makes the decision to move on from Chicago kinda worth it,” Nyarko said. “Being in Chicago for that long, through the good through the bad, I finally decided to leave. If it had not resulted in a successful year and the playoffs, it would’ve been for nothing. I couldn’t have justified that.”

[ MORE: Power rankings — Going to the playoffs edition ]

Now DC is a sneaky, if not chic, pick to surprise in the East. The Black-and-Red have lost just once in their last seven games, and that was a Decision Day loss in which head coach Ben Olsen sat the vast majority of his starters in order to rest for Thursday. In the past six weeks, the No. 4 seed earned results against the trio of teams ahead of it in the Eastern Conference standings.

In other words, no one wants to see DC on their schedule right now. PST made the case for each team’s championship chances on Monday, and Nyarko is convinced that DC can make a long, long run to the final.

“We are high in confidence right now, and the way we’ve closed out the season we discovered our identity,” Nyarko said. “Everyone works for each other, covers each other, we attack together, and we keep up that intensity.”

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Nyarko’s traditional stats aren’t going to jump out at you; His four goals match his career-high, and his eight assists are second to Luciano Acosta, but Nyarko brings a different level of savvy to the squad.

On a team with United States men’s national team center back Steve Birnbaum, you could argue that midfielder Nyarko is the team’s best defensive asset. He does the dirty things and is fouled more than anyone else on the team, but has also completed the second-most key passes on the team (to Acosta).

And the advanced stats say he’s getting the job done, too. Squawka has him in pretty good company as a Top Five midfielder when it comes to defensive performance score per game.

Nyarko DC MLS

“It’s unfortunate how the stats are usually what’s preached out to the fans,” Nyarko said. “I look for people who can make their team better. I’m ecstatic when the teams wins, and shattered when the team loses. I won’t necessarily be the last person to touch the ball before someone scores, but before that, the double teams, the division, that’s what I pride myself on. I know what I bring to a team.”

Which isn’t to say he wasn’t scratching his head when DC started the season winless through five matches, especially when he was the new guy.

[ MORE: Three MLS sides advance to Champions League knockout rounds ]

April 23 2016: D.C. United forward Patrick Nyarko (12) makes a long pass during a MLS match at RFK Stadium, in Washington D.C. DC United defeated the New England Revolution 3-0. (Photo by Tony Quinn/Iconsportswire)
(Photo by Tony Quinn/Iconsportswire)

“This year, making the change was the hardest, not knowing what to expect, getting into a new team that had been in the playoffs the last few years,” Nyarko said. “When things weren’t going well, especially early in the year when I was inconsistent, I took a lot of the blame. Am I messing up the chemistry? I knew I was playing well, but you can’t help but think that.”

The midfielder credits Olsen and the veteran locker room for bringing the team together this season, calling Olsen the “ultimate player’s coach”. Nyarko only needs two fingers to count the times Olsen has lost his cool this season, and learned that his coach was a different breed when he approached him early in the season to talk about the offense.

“Usually I try not to get into coaches, but we weren’t scoring as many goals,” Nyarko said. “He wasn’t worried about it. He made a comment like, ‘I’m not gonna get on you guys, the chances are there, it’s just not going in. I’m not going to yell. It’s not like you’re deciding not to finish.’ I was like, ‘Woah, this guy thinks like a player’. The freedom he gives you, he knows everyone’s ability, and he doesn’t restrict you. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake.”

Nyarko also points to a player as an emblem of DC’s success, and that’s Lamar Neagle. The ex-Seattle Sounders man has been in on 15 goals but hasn’t complained that he’s been used off the bench in his 10 of his 31 appearances.

“This guy’s leading us in goals and he doesn’t start and he’s mentally strong enough to want to help our team,” Nyarko said. “This is an exciting team that came along at the last part of the season and we hope to continue our push toward MLS Cup.”

 

D.C. United hands GM Dave Kasper multi-year extension

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Following its worst-to-first turnaround last season, D.C. United rewarded General Manager Dave Kasper with a multi-year contract extension, the club announced.

“Dave Kasper has demonstrated expertise building a deep and talented roster,” D.C. United co-owner Jason Levien told the official website. “His strong knowledge of the player market combined with the professional soccer operations culture he has helped to build has D.C. United well-positioned for future success. We are very pleased he will remain with the club, and we are deeply appreciative for his leadership.”

Kasper, in charge of personnel and player decisions since 2002 at the club, was also newly appointed vice president of soccer operations. His previous deal was set to expire in December of this year.

“This is where I want to be,” Kasper said. “This is my club and I’ve been blessed to be part of winning trophies here.”

Steven Goff of the Washington Post was the first to report the story yesterday. The club confirmed the appointment and new deal today. According to Goff, Kasper will now be in charge of a broader range of responsibilities, including those at the youth level and the club’s attempts to secure a partnership at the USL Pro level. The club has won five trophies under Kasper, including a title in 2004 to go along with two Supporters’ Shields and two US Open Cup titles.

Last year’s success brought a contract extension for manager Ben Olsen earlier this offseason, and now Kasper reaps the rewards as well.

2015 MLS Season Preview: D.C. United

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  • Worst to first in Eastern Conference last year
  • Has won four MLS Cups, four Supporters’ Shields, and three U.S. Open Cups
  • Eliminated in the Eastern Conference finals in last year’s playoffs

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS previews for 2015 ]

Key Player: Fabian Espindola

If you aren’t sure just how important Espindola is to Ben Olsen’s squad, just look to how they did without him last season. He was injured in mid-June and were thrashed by Los Angeles 4-1. He got sent off in a game against New York in the first half, and they lost 1-0. Every time he was missing, they looked less dangerous up front. Espindola’s creativity and goalscoring ability was both flashy and productive last season, and they’ll need all they can get from the 29-year-old Argentine yet again if they hope to repeat last year’s regular season performance.

Unfortunately, Espindola is suspended a whopping six matches to start the season for shoving a referee in DC’s playoff finale last year, a huge blow for the beginning of their Eastern Conference title defense.

Other players to watch: Luis Silva, Bill Hamid, Perry Kitchen

Perry Kitchen was one of the best players in Major League Soccer last year, even though it took a while for everyone to notice. For a holding midfielder to earn that kind of respect says a lot, and Kitchen at just 23 years of age has a long, bright future ahead. Silva’s partnership with Espindola last season was well documented, and the pair made each other better on the field. Hamid’s goalkeeping earned him a national team call-up and is one of the possibilities to take over for Tim Howard going forward long-term.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Head Coach: Ben Olsen

Last season’s Coach of the Year award was a no-brainer. Having taken the team from the basement in 2013 to the peak of the Eastern Conference in stunning fashion, Olsen was a runaway winner. The 37-year-old signed a long-term contract with D.C. on top of that, and looks to be a mainstay barring things falling completely apart. That doesn’t seem likely, as this team looks to be built for sustainable competitiveness rather than a one-and-done year. The former D.C. United midfielder is a big reason why.

2015 outlook

Few saw what would come in 2014. After winning a total of three games all year the season before, they won the Eastern Conference by a comfortable four-point margin and came to the brink of an MLS Cup finals. The turnaround was remarkable, but this season is all about sustained success. The crux of the team is young and rising, suggesting there’s no reason why last year should be a fluke. D.C. will absolutely be challenging not just for the Supporter’s Shield, but for all major trophies across the season. Look out, Eastern Conference.