- The Washington Times - Friday, April 14, 2006

When U.S. soccer coach Bruce Arena names his 23-man World Cup roster on May 2, D.C. United midfielder Ben Olsen should be on it.

He may not be a starter, but Olsen is the kind of player who can come off the bench and stir things up. Olsen brings leadership, experience and guts. He’s also a good man to have in the locker room. The once scrawny kid Arena recruited to play at Virginia and who won rookie of the year honors at D.C. United has matured into a wise player.

And luck finally seems to be on Olsen’s side. After years of battling injuries, he seems to be getting the breaks. In 33 games for the U.S. team, he has scored six goals, which is not bad for a midfielder at the international level. This year alone, Ben has scored two goals for the Americans, one an absolute charmer against Guatemala and the other a cheeky shot against Jamaica on Tuesday night.

Olsen, 28, may have lost a few yards from the days when he ran down the right flank like a corrupt congressman fleeing D.C., but his improved vision in the middle of the field is a bonus. He’s always alert — that comes from dogging the traffic in Adams Morgan — which is the sign of a good midfielder.

His gritty determination may be just what this team needs off the bench against the big Czechs, the bone-crunching Italians, and the unknown Ghanaians in the opening round. A little “in your face” Olsen-style may send the message — don’t mess with the red, white and blue.

And as you know, Olsen’s humor even dwarfs that of John Harkes. A good laugh at halftime in a tense locker room? Priceless.

To quote his current coach Peter Nowak this week: “The most important thing for people to understand about Ben is that he is a winner. He is a guy who is going to push his teammates. You can count on Ben every time he shows up on the field. He is going to give everything.”

United faces Dynamo — After a 2-2 tie with the New York Red Bulls and 2-0 win over Chivas USA, United (1-0-1) faces its first real test tonight against the Houston Dynamo (1-1) at RFK Stadium in its third straight home game.

While both the Red Bulls and Chivas were revamped from last year, they are considered among the weaker teams in MLS. However, the Dynamo (formerly the San Jose Earthquakes) were the best team in the 2005 regular season and the club changed little in the offseason.

“We have to take care of business at home,” United inform striker Alecko Eskandarian said. “These three games at home in a row are crucial for us to get the points and separate us in the table form the rest of the pack, so we need a win.”

The Dynamo beat every team in the league except United in 2005, which held them to a scoreless tie on the road and crushed them 3-0 at home. United tied Houston 1-1 in the preseason.

The Dynamo will be missing last year’s MVP runner-up, forward Dwayne De Rosario, who is suspended for the game.

Nowak has tinkered with his starting lineup this season and there are likely to be changes today. In the first game of the season he started Freddy Adu, but against Chivas he replaced Adu in the lineup with Eskandarian. Both players have done well. Adu has three assists, while Eskandarian has a goal.

“I want to keep everyone happy but my lineup is pretty open,” Nowak said.

Since suffering a concussion, Eskandarian plays with protective head gear.

“It just feels like a head band and doesn’t bother me at all,” Eskandarian said. “If anything it gives me more confidence knowing that I have a little protection in there just in case I get hit. I have no fear going into tackles.”

Talking money — The average yearly pay for an English Premier League player is $1.1 million, according to a survey in the Independent. In the Championship — the division below the EPL — it’s $341,246. The average in League One is $118,224 and $86,488 in League Two.

The 27 to 28 age group gets the highest pay in the EPL at $1.5 million, while 17- and 18-year-olds make an average of $42,721.

Compare that to MLS where there is a salary cap of $280,000, and the average salary is between $70,000 and $80,000. Last year the Los Angeles Galaxy’s Landon Donovan was listed with the highest salary at $900,000, followed by the Kansas City Wizards’ Eddie Johnson ($875,000) and D.C. United’s Adu ($550,000).

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