Ben Olsen has been over the past twelve seasons one of the best American footballers plying his trade in MLS. After several injury plagued seasons and speculation that he’d retire last year, Olsen scored a dramatic stoppage time tying goal tonight to give DC United a critical home draw with New England. Olsen slotted home a Jaime Moreno free kick almost at the death.
Olsen burst on the MLS scene in 1998, contributing immediately to the DC United dynasty helping to lead the Red and Black to the CONCACAF Champions League title, and the MLS cup final. The next year Olsen was critical for the US National Team scoring a critical goal against Germany which gave the US a victory and passage out of the group stage of the Confederations Cup.
Olsen continued his dominant and hard nosed misfield play by helping to lead United to the MLS Cup title. Olsen’s star had never been higher.
But the next season he had a dramatic collision with Zach Thornton and his injury problems started just as DC United were moving from being the elite MLS team to being the league’s first victim of the parity doctrine which rules MLS thinking. Olsen’s national team career hit the rocks and his move to Nottingham Forest on loan ended early when he was injured again.
Olsen missed out on football totally for about two years after the injury in England. He missed the 2002 World Cup and didn’t return to United full time until 2003, when the Red and Black finally returned to the MLS Playoffs after a three year absence. But Olsen wasn’t the same player.
He continued to be gritty and smart but couldn’t fly forward or play with pace, as he had before. But Olsen’s loss of speed which forced him into the center of midfield also made him again a viable option for the US National Team.
Bruce Arena recalled him to the national team and he made the 2006 World Cup squad. Olsen played a key role in keeping the US afloat after Claudio Reyna subbed out injured against Ghana, but his efforts were not enough to overcome an American effort that lacked urgency.
Olsen returned to DC United after the World Cup but helped lead the team to a Supporters Shield triumph in both 2006 and 2007. But Olsen’s injuries continued to mount and he played just once, ironically on ABC against David Beckham last season. But now Olsen is back and producing again, which is good news for DC United and the league.
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