- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 22, 2008

The surface at RFK Stadium looks like a billiards table, the kind of field conducive to Ben Olsen’s runs down the right flank.

But while his D.C. United teammates are practicing for the start of the MLS season on March 29, Olsen is alone, in a nondescript room with a leaking pipe in the ceiling at RFK Stadium, working on a $75,000 special treadmill.

“I swear this room was built 30 years before the rest of the stadium,” Olsen said. “There’s just me and the treadmill. It’s as barren as Guantanamo Bay.”

The second-longest tenured United player after Jamie Moreno, Olsen is trying to get fit after having multiple surgeries on both of his ankles. The 30-year-old is hoping to return by the end of next month, but that might be optimistic.

“Look, I’ve been off four months, so there’s a lot that goes into that, including the brain coming back to speed,” Olsen said.

Olsen had surgery on both his ankles to remove bone spurs right after the season ended in November. But the surgeries weren’t successful, so the midfielder had more.

Olsen was worried his career might be over.

“I thought this might be it because it wasn’t healing and the bone just didn’t want to cooperate,” said Olsen, who also missed the 2001 season with an ankle injury.

This time the doctors pin-pricked the bones “to bleed and create false cartilage” to avoid the bones rubbing together.

“I think they definitely got the trouble after the second surgery and it’s just nice to get the cleats back on,” Olsen said.

Olsen had a career year last season, when he had seven goals and seven assists, including his first hat trick, but he said he was playing through pain most of the time.

“It was a miserable season,” Olsen said. “I felt I was playing well — and we all have to play with pain — but there was stuff in my ankle that didn’t belong.”

Knowing that, United coach Tom Soehn gave him some breaks.

“He trusted me that I could turn up on Saturday without all the training,” Olsen said.

Now Olsen is working in the Nationals’ old batting cage on a state-of-the-art anti-gravity treadmill, developed by NASA. The treadmill creates a situation in which the runners body-weight is reduced, thus alleviating pounding on the joints.

“As a kid I was always on the blacktop playing tennis and basketball and things just chip off and bones grow,” Olsen said.

Olsen’s next challenge may soon be less about his ankles and more about winning back his starting role. In his absence, Devon McTavish has taken over his spot on United’s right flank with a flourish, scoring three goals in the team’s last two games.

Store is open — United has taken over the Nationals team store at the entrance to RFK. The store is open from 11-6 each weekday and four hours before each game.

Real Maryland — El Salvadoran star Dennis Alas, 23, joined Real Maryland this week and will play in the club’s scrimmage at George Mason today at 2 p.m. The team also signed Argentine midfielder Pablo Gomez, brother of former D.C. United star Christian Gomez.

Return of Beckham — David Beckham could earn his 100th cap when England plays France at Wembley on March 26 after being named to the country’s provisional team.

Beckham will then fly back for the Los Angeles Galaxy’s season-opener against Colorado three days later. The U.S. team will face England at Wembley on May 28.

Women’s team — The U.S. women’s team is penciled in to defend its title at the Peace Queen Cup in Suwon, South Korea, on June 14-21.

Money time — FIFA, soccer’s governing body, earned $882 million in 2007 with $833 in expenses. FIFA lost $90 million in a court battle with MasterCard last year. The group has $1.6 billion in assets.

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