Kicking It with ... Ben Olsen
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Ray Hudson has new players running all over the fields down here. But unlike the cast of unknowns that the MetroStars have in camp, D.C. United's new players have relatively well-known resumes that fit neatly into every category of player seen within Major League Soccer.
There are Project 40 young guns (Brian Carroll, Alecko Eskandarian and David Stokes), World Cup veterans (Earnie Stewart and Hristo Stoitchkov), youth National Team standouts (Devin Barclay) and All-Star starters (Dema Kovalenko and Mike Petke) who have been welcomed in since the end of the 2002 season.
In the middle of all this, there's Ben Olsen. He's not really a veteran at 25, yet he no longer can be considered a young star.
"I'm at a weird age," jokes Olsen, now entering his fifth season with D.C. that doesn't include his lost year in 2001 due to surgery on his right ankle.
As one of the players who was part of both the old regime that tore up the league in the late 90s and the last-place squad from last year, the National Team midfielder is the perfect guy to check in with on the status of the squad.
Resting his body, particularly that ankle that is about to be submerged in an ice bath after a long afternoon against a more well-organized Columbus Crew side in a 4-2 loss at the Orange Bowl, Olsen reflects on the preseason, Bruce Arena, his favorite EPL teams to watch and the leadership dynamic within his club.
Connolly: There's an eclectic mix of players in this locker room after all the wheeling-and-dealing in the offseason. How is that working out?
Olsen: Yeah, it's interesting mix with the older players we have brought in and with the new fresh talent. It's a nice mix. The younger guys are respectful to the older guys and are willing to learn. And the older guys are certainly willing to teach. These guys -- Stoitchkov, Marco, and Earnie -- have been through a lot of games and a lot of situations and a lot of teams. They can teach these young guys, and myself, quite a bit about the game. We need to take that and hopefully gel it.
Ray (Hudson) is a very good coach for gelling. He prides himself on getting his teams together. We have some work to do on that both on and off the field. It's going to take time. We have to be patient.
Connolly: Marco Etcheverry still seems like the on-field engine, but who has emerged as the team's off-the-field leader thus far?
Olsen: Marco is certainly more of a leader on the field, as there is a language issue and all. Earnie is a very experienced player, and he knows the game on and off the field. He knows what needs to be done. I think he's great for these young guys. I think that maybe he's been that guy for his. Him and, maybe, Hristo, whose talent speaks for itself. Earnie has emerged as a pretty good leader.
Connolly: Have you guys done anything as a team or team-building activities while in preseason?
Olsen: We go to the beach. I think that's our big team-building thing. We'll sit around a bit and talk and then fool around with the ball a little on the beach. But with this team, we really don't need too much of that. There are so many characters, and everyone seems to really enjoy everyone's company. That's a nice thing to have going on because there have been teams that I've been on where it hasn't been like that. This team is pretty close. It's something that Hristo has preached - that we have to be brothers, as he says, on and off the field. We'll see how that works for us.
Connolly: Now being fairly healthy, do you feel like now is the time to really make your mark with the National Team?
Olsen: That's what I want and that's what I'm striving for. But I have to be realistic about it. I have to take it one day at a time as far as being healthy. I'm confident that if I do that then I'll get back to that level fairly soon. There's times when I feel that I am back. But then there's times when it gets a little sore and I'll have a down day. For the most part, the ankle feels great now. It's just about me getting my fitness around.
Connolly: You've played for Bruce Arena at the college, club and international level. How has he changed?
Olsen: He talks on his cell phone a lot more (laughing). He seems a lot busier. He has so much on his plate and things are always going on with him. He's just an important man with soccer in the U.S. right now and he always has a lot on his mind.
Connolly: How about as a coach?
Olsen: He concentrates more on fitness now. When I was at UVA, he didn't incorporate the fitness aspect as much compared to having us play. He's always demanded you work hard anytime you're on the field for him, but I think he now sees how fit you have to be at the world stage level. When we are in camps, he concentrates on that a lot more than before.
Connolly: You've said that you started watching more soccer when you were hurt and couldn't play. What players do you turn on your TV to watch?
Olsen: I like watching the guys in this league. If (MLS) games are on, I'll watch it. It's always nice to watch players you know. I like to watch the young guys coming up and the new fresh talent coming up to see what they have. Overseas, I try to watch the English League. It's like eye-candy.
Connolly: Do you have a team?
Olsen: I like Arsenal. But I like Man. U, Arsenal and all the top teams. I just like to watch all that talent play. Champions League, too. It's like watching an all-star game every time.
Connolly: Can you see yourself playing in that league?
Olsen: Yeah, sure. But it's one of those things where I just don't know. I really don't. It's imperative right now just to be healthy and do well here. I really can't think of that stuff yet.
Marc Connolly covers soccer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at: email@example.com.