Hello loyal fans of The Valentin Chronicles! This is your pal Jules on site at U.S. Soccer’s National Training Center at the beautiful brand new Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. I’ve taken a week off from the hustle and bustle of the U-17s in Bradenton and joined U.S. Under-20 Head Coach Thomas Rongen for a camp as we begin the road to Holland for the next FIFA World Youth Championship.
This week is a "U.S. Soccer Festival" of sorts, with the full MNT, U-23 MNT, U-20 MNT, and the U-18 MNT all in one place. I figured this would be a good opportunity to sit down with some of the senior players. So, this week’s new segment is what I like to call a Valentine Chronicles Special Report: "Jules With the Big Boys."
The first player I sat down with was my fellow central Pennsylvanian, Ben Olsen. I have to admit that I was a little bit nervous going into this whole project, but Ben was a great person to start off my interviews. He is extremely outgoing and personable, with a great sense of humor. I was instantly welcomed into his messy room, which I dubbed "the chill spot." I got comfortable on a little computer chair and asked Ben a couple questions:
Jules: The first question has to be: Are you a fan of The Valentin Chronicles? Have you ever read any of them?
Ben Olsen: Unfortunately not. However, I have heard quite a bit about them and I hear they’re pretty good. So, I’m looking to follow the next round of chronicles.
J: How long have you been in the national team program?
BO: Probably since Under-18 I would say. I was with the 17s a little bit, but I wasn’t very good back then.
J: You went to UVA, correct?
BO: Yes, went to UVA. I didn’t graduate but stayed a couple years.
J: Remember this is PG, but I’ve got to ask you, what is your most memorable college moment off the field?
BO: The soccer stuff was great. Winning the ACCs, going to the Final Four and the final games. Those were pretty memorable.
At that moment Ben’s roommate Chris Albright joined the party and began to add his two cents on every question. I find our first conversation quite interesting:
J: How’s it going?
Chris Albright: Not bad, you’re in with the younger guys?
J: Yea, with the 20s right now.
CA: Nice…Thomas (Rongen)?
CA: Yeah, he’s normal.
BO: Dude, this is on tape!
CA: (Leaning towards my voice recorder to accentuate his sarcastic point) Thomas is normal.
Sorry coach Rongen, I had to put that little conversation in. It seems that you and Chris have a little talking to do here. Anyways, back to the question now.
BO: I used to get in a lot of fights with my roommate. We used to fight like once a month just because we were around each other so much. It was never big fights because neither of us are big guys and no one ever got hurt.
J: The ladies need to know - how would you describe your current love life? Are you married, do you have a girlfriend, or are you playing out the field at right midfield?
BO: I’m man-marked right now and I’m man-marking as well. No, I have a girlfriend and everything is pretty good with that.
CA: Soon to be fiancée!
J: Do you have any pre-game rituals or superstitions?
BO: No. I used to do things like shave before a game. But I think as you get older you rely on yourself a little bit more, not on your superstitions.
J: Are you related to Mary-Kate and Ashley in any way, shape, or form?
BO: I wish man, I wish! I think I just saw something (that said) they’re worth something like over a hundred million dollars. So that would be nice.
Jules: Describe your first international game. Can you remember?
BO: It was against Australia. I got in for like the last 20 minutes and touched the ball probably once. I just ran around a lot. It was a pretty cold day like in December or something. It was a tough atmosphere. It was raining, even maybe some snow. It was a disaster, but it’s always nice to get that first one.
J: How are you preparing for Denmark coming up in a couple weeks here? Anything in particular?
BO: We haven’t really even started getting into that yet. We’ve just been trying to focus in on making it day to day. Trying to make the squad to play the game.
J: This is probably the most important question that I’m going to ask you so I need you to be completely honest. Did you bet on baseball?
BO: (Intense laughter from Ben, Chris, and me) That’s pretty good. I don’t bet, I don’t bet on sports. (Winking at me) Chris Albright does a lot of betting.
Ben Olsen: Big
J: Coach Bruce Arena
J: Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen
(Ben is stumped and we all break out into more intense laughter)
CA: Man, you’re giving me so much material here.
BO: Great education
J: Middletown, Pennsylvania
BO: The Sweetest Place on Earth
J: Eddie Pope
BO: Perfect. Eddie Pope – he bathes in cabbage water.
J: U.S. Soccer
BO: Fortunate to be a part of it.
J: Is there anything else that you want to add or ask me? Any shout-outs?
BO: I want to give a shout-out to (pensive pause) just Central Pennsylvania. How about a good shout-out to CPA.
J: Pound me up for that!
BO: Chris is a little bit removed. He’s Eastern Pennsylvania but he’s a big city. We have to stick with our country roots and be proud of them, know what I mean?
(Editor’s Note: Chris Albright is from Philadelphia)
So ladies and gentleman, there it is – interview number one in The Valentin Chronicles Special Report: "Jules With the Big Boys." Ben, Chris, and I had so much fun in the 15 minutes that I sat down with them, and I would like to thank Ben for taking the time out of his busy schedule to speak with me. Good luck the rest of this camp and in the future.
Make sure to stay tuned to ussoccer.com for the next piece in this exciting special series. Also, don’t forget about The Valentin Chronicles issue IV, which can still be viewed on ussoccer.com along with previous chronicles. Nobody knows (besides me and ussoccer.com) whom the next interviewee will be, so make sure to keep checking ussoccer.com for my next exciting conference with one of the "big boys" from the senior team.