- The Washington Times - Friday, January 23, 2009

D.C. United’s players gathered Thursday for their first day of training. Ben Olsen, sidelined with an ankle injury last season, didn’t miss out.

The veteran midfielder put in a solid performance during a 45-minute scrimmage at RFK Stadium’s auxiliary field. The 31-year-old said he is fighting pain in both ankles as he vies for a spot on the roster.

“I’m cautiously optimistic about getting through a season,” he said. “The verdict on the ankle is that it is what it is - it’s not going to get better. Knowing that helps me go ahead and push and do what I can.”

The club has until March 2 to determine Olsen’s status. Even if he retires, he will count against the salary cap. United starts its MLS season March 22 at Los Angeles.

Olsen played just 15 minutes last season. He was sorely missed as the club failed to make the playoffs for the first time since 2004.

“Anytime Ben is around, he brings out the best in us,” coach Tom Soehn said.

Twenty players dressed for the first day of practice, including four of United’s five draftees. Defender Lyle Adams, the club’s fourth pick, is trying out for an Austrian team.

“The core of our guys we brought back looked pretty good,” Soehn said.

United’s top pick, former Maryland defender Rodney Wallace, looked comfortable in his first session.

Notably missing was United’s designated player, Marcelo Gallardo, who is still in Argentina recovering from December abductor surgery. He is expected to return in 10 days. Also, midfielder Fred is in Brazil waiting for a new visa, and defender Gonzalo Peralta is on loan to Union Sante Fe of the Argentine second division.

Rosters have been cut this season from 28 players to 24.

“It’s going to make it very competitive, and I will be forced to make some tough decisions by March 2,” Soehn said.

United has 27 players and is expected to sign more and give tryouts to others. Kyle Veris, a former Los Angeles defender, is on trial with the team.

The club will spend a week training at RFK and then leave Tuesday for Bradenton, Fla., to spend a week there. The club is expected to go on tour in February and in March is slated to compete in the Carolina Challenge Cup in Charleston, S.C. In that event, United will play Real Salt Lake, Toronto FC and Charleston Battery of the United Soccer League.