- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 27, 2002

Who knows? We may see Paul "Gazza" Gascoigne playing alongside Ben Olsen and Marco Etcheverry in the D.C. United midfield. If that doesn't excite the most cynical soccer fans, then what will?

The appearance of Gascoigne in a United shirt may still be a way off, but it does set the mouth watering and the head spinning.

Besides the "Gazza phenomena" hitting the nation's capital this week, the other good news for United's loyal fans is that Olsen, the club's forgotten winger, is ready to return to the field and has a good chance of coming off the bench today.

Olsen, who has been sidelined with an ankle injury for nearly 16 months, could see some playing time tonight when United takes on the struggling New England Revolution in a crucial game at RFK Stadium.

"We may need him out of necessity," said United coach Ray Hudson. "We are so depleted, missing so many soldiers."

United will be without key players Jaime Moreno (hamstring), Santino Quaranta (hernia) and Eddie Pope (ankle) against the Revolution as it seeks to crawl back into the playoff picture.

Olsen, 25, is clearly one of United's most talented players and more than likely would have been on Bruce Arena's World Cup team if he had been fit. The right-flank midfielder went through surgery four times to repair a broken ankle he suffered while on loan to English First Division club Nottingham Forest in March 2001.

"It's up to the coach, but I'm eligible to play," said Olsen, who has 12 goals and 23 assists in 84 games for United. "I'm not ready for 90 minutes, but I have the mind frame to be able to play."

Olsen was an integral part of United's 1999 championship season, scoring two goals in the playoffs. At the 2000 Sydney Olympics he helped the Americans reach the bronze medal game. His play caught the attention of England's David Platt, coach of Nottingham, who got him on loan from Major League Soccer. He played 14 games for Forest and was on the verge of signing a contract when he was injured. He returned to United in early 2001 and has not played since.

"It's no coincidence that the lean days of D.C. United came with the absence of Ben," Hudson said. "It is his drive this team has lacked."

Olsen's injury saga is almost as bad as that of Gascoigne, who blew his knee out in a rash tackle at the FA Cup final in 1991 and then broke the kneecap on the same knee in a nightclub brawl. Olsen's ankle had to be re-broken and a sliced tendon that was missed during earlier surgery had to be repaired.

"There were points when I felt I wouldn't play again," Olsen said. "Now that I am fit, I will never take this game for granted ever again."

Hudson said Olsen's "infectious enthusiasm" is just what United needs as it finds itself five points adrift of a playoff spot.

The former Virginia star and 1998 MLS Rookie of the Year has plenty riding on his comeback.

"Not only do I have to prove I'm back, I have to prove to the coach that I can start," Olsen said. "I have to impress Bruce Arena again and myself. I don't just want to get back I want to be a better player."

His long absence hasn't been all bad. Olsen said the injury helped him in many ways. He has put on more weight, studied the game in depth and become calmer.

"I've got more weight in my midsection, which will help my balance and make me more stable as I run," said Olsen who is listed at 5-foot-10 and 150 pounds.

Olsen is still sore about not being purchased by Forest. He was starting for the club and a career in England loomed.

"I thought I did well enough to deserve a contract," he said.

He hopes he can play overseas again one day, saying, "My destiny may be in MLS, but I would love another shot over there."

As for the arrival of Gascoigne, Olsen said he would love to play alongside him. He recently got a call from American teammate Joe-Max Moore, who played with Gascoigne at Premier League club Everton.

"Joe said, 'You guys are in for an exciting ride because [Gascoigne] is a true character on and off the field,'" Olsen said.

After all the surgery on his right ankle, the pain still hasn't gone. Olsen doesn't feel pain when he runs, but he wakes up with pain and his ankle bothers him after training until he gets it under hot water.

Said Olsen: "This injury has been my reality for a long time but its also been my blessing. I turned myself into a real soccer fan watching all those World Cup games on TV."

Note It's rare that a team that leads in the goal scoring bracket is the worst team in the league. But that's the case with New England. The club leads MLS in scoring with 34 goals but has given up a league-high 42. The Revolution also boasts the league's leading scorer in Taylor Twellman (15 goals).


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