Off-the-wall Questions and Answers, Queries and Anecdotes from U.S. Men’s National Team midfielder Ben Olsen.Olsen’s relatively brief career as a pro and National Team member has already been a bit of a roller coaster. After being a standout at the University of Virginia, he joined a D.C. United team that would rattle off three championships in the first four years of MLS. On the international front, he helped the U.S. Under-23 Men’s National Team qualify for the 2000 Olympics in his backyard of Hershey, Pennsylvania and was a major part, both in skill and team spirit, in guiding Team USA to an all-time best fourth-place finish at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
But after slowly ratcheting up that big incline and enjoying the view from the top came the big drop. How big of a drop? Try an almost two-year absence from playing competitively, including three major surgeries on the same ankle. And you can’t forget a blown opportunity to make the final U.S. World Cup roster and roam the flanks in Korea last summer. For someone as competitive as he is, it was just short of torture. But finally, finally, he’s got his health back and is back in a U.S. uniform looking ahead to Germany 2006, on the way back up the next big lift.
Center Circle: You've been injury-free now for about six months. You must be very exited about being able to get back to work on a consistent basis.
Ben Olsen: "I'm very excited to be back, no question. At the same time, it's a little bit of a struggle with little injuries here and there. It's going to take some time to get back to where I was. There's also a mental aspect of coming back. I see improvement every day, and I'm almost getting to the point where I'm playing the way I was playing. In certain aspects, I think I'm a better player for having sat out so long."
CC: In what aspects?
BO: "I never really watched the game, and when you sit out for a year and a half, you watch a lot of soccer. You realize a lot more about the game, about the way people play off you and play off others. You see what you can do better out there, and you are able to critique other players and help improve their game as well. Overall, watching a sport helps anyone get a different perspective."
CC:With your previous success with United and at the national team level, and now having survived the struggles of the ankle injuries and the tough years at D.C., do you have a greater appreciation every time you have the opportunity to wear the national team jersey?
BO: "Absolutely. You take things for granted when you haven't tasted failure. When I got injured, my life hadn't suddenly become bad for me. I was still alive and still healthy. I just couldn't play the game I loved. So, I wouldn't say I had this big traumatic experience. Having said that, I missed soccer. It's a creative outlet for me, and when I did come back it was nice to be able to explore that outlet back in my life and use that energy."
CC: So when you didn't have soccer as an outlet, how did you channel that energy to other places?
BO: "I'm going to get killed for this. I started to do a lot of painting. You have so much creative energy, and I wasn't happy when I was sitting around watching t.v. all day, so I went out and bought a couple canvasses and really got into it. It gave me a release for about a year. Now that I'm playing again, it's been really tough to try and paint again. I think I only have so much of that energy in me, and it's focused back on soccer. Also, painting is a cheap way to fill up the walls on a new apartment."
CC: What kind of art are you producing here? Abstract? Pop art? For some reason, we don't see you painting water lillies or apples in a bowl...:
BO: “Yeah, it's definitely abstract stuff. I've experimented a bit with pop art as well. I've developed a new style. It's called ‘wasting paint.’”
CC: Having had the opportunity to be involved with the national team program at different stages of your career, how is the environment different?
BO: "Before I always felt like some little kid on the national team. I was just fortunate to be up here playing with all these great players ahead of me, and it was flattering just to be invited. Now, I feel like I have to make my stamp, instead of just doing my job. It's time for me to become an important player on this team, and if I don't step up, I don't deserve to be here."
CC: You played a tremendous amount of games for club and country in 2000, and you were bothered by nagging injuries toward the end of the year. Looking back, was there a point during that grueling year where you realized that maybe you needed to sit out a game or two here or there in order to maintain your health but decided against it? Any regrets?
BO: “No regrets. There were most certainly some games that I should have taken off, but it wasn't in my frame of mind to do that at the time. Through those games, I got a lot more experience. When I did break down, I don't think it was necessarily because of too many games. I got a hairline fracture in the ankle as a result of a kick by another player.”
CC: Back before he was traded to the Galaxy, you were pretty tight with Olympic teammate Chris Albright. Since he was shipped off to the left coast, who has been your best friend/influence/supporter during all of the time you've spent off the field?
BO: “I have no close friends. Every time I get a close friend at D.C. United, he gets traded or cut, so no one on the team wants to hang out with me.”
CC: You won U.S. Soccer’s Chevy Young Male Athlete of the Year award in 1999 after helping D.C. United to its third MLS Cup title. Did you ever get that bike you were asking about as a consolation prize for the top Male winner getting keys to a new Chevy ride?
BO: “I actually stole that joke from Bruce (Arena), so I can't take credit for it. But no, I did not get the bike.”
CC: Speaking of Bruce … obviously you've known him for a long time, being your coach at UVa and D.C. What's one thing, flattering or unflattering, that the average soccer fan doesn't know about Bruce Arena?
BO: “He loves licorice, the red kind.”
CC: What's your favorite thing about D.C., the city?
BO: “I like that I know the city well. It's the only one I really know. I hang out in Adams Morgan a lot. The restaurants are outstanding. I eat out way too much.”
CC: Word on the street is that you're a bit of a lady-killer. Confirm or deny:
BO: “Completely deny. I'm a hopeless romantic.”
CC: When are you going to get a G.D. haircut?
BO: “I would, but my girlfriend likes it. I don't have that many good attributes, so if there's one she likes, I've got to milk it.”
CC: Do you still take some flak for what turned out to be a kind of homoerotic photo spread in the Olympic fashion issue of "Rolling Stone"?
BO: “Look, if it was just mine, I would have taken a lot more flak, but there were plenty of other guys who had some questionable photos. I thought mine was one of the better of the group, actually. They didn't even let us keep the outfits!”
CC: And finally, being a sharp-dressed man, a quick fashion pop quiz: What goes with black?
BO: “Anything. Doesn’t everybody know that?”
Table of Contents
1) Armchair Midfielder (Off-season MLS Pick-ups)
2) In Threes (w/ U-19 WNT goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris)
3) Desert Island Discs (w/ WNT midfielder Tiffany Roberts)
4) Queries and Anecdotes (w/ MNT midfielder Ben Olsen)
5) Mark That Calendar (On to the Algarve...)
6) Superstar!!! (w/ WNT, U-21 WNT forward Lindsay Tarpley)
7) FAN Point/Counterpoint (Who will save the Fire in 2003?)
8) "You Don't Know Jack (Marshall)" (Algarve Cup Trivia)
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