A year after returning following a series of ankle surgeries, D.C. United veteran Ben Olsen announced his retirement Tuesday at RFK Stadium.
Flanked by team president Kevin Payne and general manager Dave Kasper, the 32-year-old said the state of his ankles showed itself after a season of needing painkilling injections just to get on the pitch.
"I wanted to cleanse myself from a lot of [the painkillers]," he said. "Then the reality hit - the true ankle, the ankle I'm going to deal for the rest of my life, showed itself. And it spooked me a little bit. It spooked my wife, the way I couldn't carry my child down the stairs at times and things like this. You come to a crossroads, and you say, 'At what cost do you come back and play?'
"Everybody knows me; I think about tomorrow and not next year. I was ready and willing to do it again. Fortunately, I talked to enough people and came to my senses, and I think I came to the right decision."
Olsen, a 12-year United veteran and winner of eight trophies with the club, said he weighed his limitations going into the 2010 season in coming to his decision. He said it was "not exactly fair to the club to put a strain on the tactical side" by only being able to play a certain number of games.
"There's regret. There's disappointment. There's a thought that what if these ankles never acted up, where would I be?" Olsen said. "But the more I think about it, the more my feelings become relief that I don't have to deal with this [pain.]"
Olsen thanked seemingly everyone involved with the club, its supporter groups, his teammates, coaches, doctors and family.
"I've played with the best players," said Olsen, who represented the United States at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney and 2006 World Cup in Germany.
Washington Convention Center Authority chief executive officer Greg O'Dell presented a proclamation from Mayor Adrian Fenty declaring Nov. 24 "Ben Olsen Day" in the District. Off the field, Olsen devoted a lot of time to charitable causes in the area. In 2003, he was named the U.S. Soccer Foundation's humanitarian of the year.
A gritty, industrious midfielder, Olsen quickly became a fan favorite after joining United in 1997 following his junior season at Virginia. He was the MLS rookie of the year in 1998 and emerged as an integral part of United's midfield during its MLS Cup conquests in 1999 and 2004, winning MVP of the 1999 title game.
He played on loan with English team Nottingham Forest following the 2000 season but suffered a broken ankle with the club and missed all of United's 2001 campaign and part of 2002.
He had his best season with United in 2007, posting seven goals and seven assists to be named to the MLS Best XI. But his ankle problems flared up again when he experienced complications following offseason surgeries to remove bone spurs. He played just one match in 2008 but somehow came back to make 18 starts with United as a holding midfielder in 2009.
He ends his career ranking second in club history in games played (221) and game-winning goals (13). He is third in assists (49).
Olsen said he wanted no part of United's coaching vacancy, believing he is "in no way ready to step into that role."
"It is hard to imagine him not being here," midfielder Santino Quaranta said. "But I have a feeling he'll be around the team in some way."
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