Ben Olsen is back with D.C. United for another run at MLS Cup.
Steve Grayson/MLS/

Revitalized Olsen surging into '05

or even an icebreaker session.

"There's some new guys," said Olsen, "and it was the first time I played with them. I was learning names throughout the game."

The unfamiliarity would have hardly been noticeable to the packed house at the University of Tampa's Pepin Stadium, which watched Olsen marshal United's dominance in the center of the field with his trademark industry. The University of Virginia product clicked well with rookie Shawn Kuykendall in the middle and skillfully guided the five other newcomers on the pitch, setting up two Black-and-Red goals in a 3-2 victory.

"It's a good bunch of guys," he said of the new United crop. "I just can't say enough about their attitudes either. Every year these kids get better, faster, stronger and brighter, and it's wonderful to see this country moving in the right direction. I wasn't that great when I was young."

While not used in the 2-1 U.S. win over Trinidad, Olsen was elated to put on his country's colors for the first time in more than two years, renewing an international career that had seemed all but over.

"I realized I took it for granted -- how special it is to go in there and play with those guys," said Olsen. "Talking about U.S. Soccer progressing -- they're with big-time programs now, and it's contagious. You feel like you're getting better there."

During his explosive early years in MLS, the former flying winger seemed destined to be a fixture for the national team. But a rash of chronic injuries, including some horrific ankle damage, derailed Olsen's progress and threatened his entire career.

Now, last year's impressive transition into a central holding role for United has not only brought him another championship, but also a new opportunity at the national team level with Arena, his former club and college coach. But Olsen sees it as only the first phase.

"It's going to take a couple more steps for me to be in his future plans," he says. "This is one small step that I need to take, and prove to him that I'm durable and okay at that level. Each camp that I go into, I've got to keep proving and showing him that I'm better."

Olsen has his sights set on the defensive midfield spot often manned by Chris Armas and Pablo Mastroeni, and continued MLS success should earn him a chance to impress during the hexagonal round this year. "You know, I'd like to think I could play wherever," says Olsen. "But I think that's where Bruce would say he's looking at me -- in a holding midfielder position. I need to prove it in a game. Practices are one thing, but I need to at some point get in some kind of game and show that I can play at that level. That's the bottom line."

Charles Boehm is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.

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