- The Washington Times - Friday, March 3, 2006

He may be a long shot, but D.C. United’s Ben Olsen hasn’t stopped fighting for a place on the U.S. World Cup team.

Olsen spent six weeks training with the U.S. team earlier this year and played in four games. American team coach Bruce Arena has been looking at candidates from a pool of more than 50 players, and will name his 23-man roster for the finals in Germany (June 9-July 9) in May.

“A lot of guys are fighting for very few spots,” Olsen said, “but when you spend a month and a half playing with the national team, you want to be on that team more and more.”

The former Virginia star didn’t hurt his chances when he scored a stunning long-range goal in the U.S. team’s 4-0 win against Guatemala last month in Frisco, Texas.

“That was a very special goal and probably one of the biggest goals I’ve ever scored,” Olsen said. “Whether that’s my last game in a while with the national team is up in the air.”

It might be. Olsen wasn’t called in for Wednesday’s game against Poland in Germany and instead went on tour with United in Spain. And the U.S. team that beat Poland 1-0 looks very much like the roster that will face Italy, the Czech Republic and Ghana in the first round of the World Cup.

“I’m trying to be realistic about this thing and I’m obviously a bubble player,” said Olsen, a veteran of the U.S. team since 1998. “Where I am on that bubble is up to Bruce. If people don’t get healthy and he needs a guy who can play in several positions, he knows I can fill in those spots if he gets into injury trouble with the other guys.”

The problem for the 28-year-old Olsen: The American team has plenty of midfield talent. Olsen is competing with holdovers like Claudio Reyna, John O’Brien, Pablo Mastroeni and Kerry Zavagnin to make the team. O’Brien and Reyna are all recovering from long-term injuries. And it didn’t help when Arena chose MLS-based Mastroeni, Zavagnin and Chris Klein instead of Olsen for the Poland game.

Still, in recent weeks Arena has praised Olsen, a player he recruited for United in 1998.

“He’s a much different player than he was when I first got him at D.C. United,” he said. “He was a player that at times was like a bull in a china shop, playing with lots of enthusiasm and quickness of speed. Today he is a very headsy, experienced player who can settle down a team.”

Olsen knows Arena well and respects the coach.

“Bruce said I had a great camp, but saying that, a lot of guys had a good camp,” he said. “I understand Bruce’s philosophy and I know what he wants. I also understand it, because I believe in him.”

One thing in Olsen’s favor is his versatility. In a recent win against Japan, Olsen played in the right-back position. If Arena does need a utility player and someone who can bring inspiration to the locker room, Olsen might be the man.

“Look, I know I can do it at that level,” he said. “I’m confident I can be on that team, but I’m not making the decisions.”

If Olsen does’t make the team, it will be the first time United has not had a representative on the U.S. World Cup team. Eddie Pope was the only United player to make the U.S. team roster at the Korea/Japan 2002 World Cup, while Pope and Jeff Agoos were United’s representatives on the 1998 team at the 1998 World Cup in France.

The marrying kind — In December, Olsen, an Adams Morgan resident, officiated the wedding between United teammate Nick Rimando and former Washington Freedom star Jacqui Little on a Malibu, Calif, beach.

Olsen obtained his wedding license on the Internet.

“I was really nervous going in as it was definitely a stage I haven’t been on, and that was part of the reason I wanted to do it, to see if I could get through this thing,” he said. “A couple of people said they got pretty emotional.”

Said Rimando: “It was typical Ben. He cracked some jokes and relaxed the crowd a bit. He loves being in the spotlight and did an awesome job. The waves were there behind us, and it was perfect.”

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