[MLS] In addition to reviving the fortunes of D.C. United, a four-time MLS champion who posted the league’s worst record last year, ex-Dynamo keeper Pat Onstad is looking forward to other aspects of his new role as assistant coach.
“The height thing is going to be a bit of an issue,” says the 6-foot-4 Onstad of his new boss, former midfielder and head coach Ben Olsen, who is eight inches shorter and more than eight years younger. “The age thing won’t be, but the height thing we’ll have to see. I don’t mind the age thing. I’ve been taking orders from a boss [Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear] whose six months older than me for the past seven years, so that’s okay.”
Onstad, 42, officially announced his retirement Tuesday as a D.C. United press release confirmed his appointment as assistant coach. He will serve as second assistant coach and work with the goalkeepers. Chad Ashton has been retained as first assistant.
In eight MLS seasons dating back to 2003, when San Jose head coach Frank Yallop bought out his contract with A-League Rochester, the Vancouver native played on three championship teams, including back-to-back titles with Houston in 2006 and 2007, and was twice named Goalkeeper of the Year. He played 220 regular-season games and recorded 64 shutouts with a 1.12 goals-allowed average, a league record for keepers with more than 10,000 minutes played.
In addition to a USSF “A” coaching license and NSCAA Level II Goalkeeping Certificate, Onstad holds dual bachelor’s degrees from the University of British Colombia in human kinetics and education. He briefly left the game in 1995 to work as a physical education teacher in Vancouver before resuming his playing career.
“I’ve always thought I would teach,” says Onstad, "but by the same token I want to stay involved in the game, so coaching the sport of soccer, I think it’s a perfect fit.”
United just traded Troy Perkins to get back Steve Cronin, who played on loan with it in 2009 and was a teammate of Onstad’s at San Jose in 2004. The 27-year-old keeper joins 20-year-old Bill Hamid, an academy product who most observers believe has great potential.
“I’m excited to work with Bill, I think he’s a great young talent,” says Onstad. “I think he’s got some opportunity to do some really special things not only in this league but in his career. Hopefully, I can be part of that process. I know Steve very well and they’re happy to get him in there. They were happy to have him a couple of years ago. The two of them will be a good tandem.”
During the 2010 season, Onstad sent out feelers about his interest in coaching and discussed a job with the Vancouver organization. When D.C. United announced a few weeks ago it had retained Olsen as head coach, a quick e-mail to general manager Dave Kasper started the process.
“Fortunately, he thought enough of me to give me a shot,” says Onstad, who believes he can contribute to United’s rebirth. “I think so. I wouldn’t want to be involved if I didn’t think I could have some influence on that. We’ve got a great opportunity to improve on last season, a disastrous season by most respects. By the same token, I think the building blocks are there, I don’t think we’re far off from being a competitive team. That’s the nice thing about the league. From the top, it’s relatively easy to slip down to the bottom and you’ve seen teams in our league go from the bottom to the top pretty quickly. That’s certainly one of our goals to start the season.”
Onstad will head east in early January to prepare for the start of preseason training. Wife Becky and their three children will move from Houston in the spring.
Coming from a team that established its own successful tradition and itself won four titles in San Jose and Houston, Onstad is looking forward to working with Olsen, Kasper and president Kevin Payne to restore United’s reputation.
“It’s a fantastic place to play, the history there is tremendous,” he says. “With Dave and Kevin in the front office, you have guys who are experienced and know how to deal with adversity and make the right decisions to push the team back to its winning ways.”
And given the height disparity among certain employees, there will be some side benefits.
“It’ll be fun,” laughs Onstad of the possibilities. “There will be some good team photos of the staff.”