- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 26, 2009

D.C. United wasn’t happy about a lot things in the club’s season-opening 2-2 tie Sunday at the Los Angeles Galaxy. There was a phantom hand ball that led to a Galaxy penalty kick, a couple of bloodied heads and only one point from a possible three.

On the positive side, however, and perhaps more importantly, veteran midfielder Ben Olsen managed 72 minutes on his ailing ankles after playing just 15 minutes all of last season.

“He means so much to our team in so many ways,” United general manager Dave Kasper said. “His heart and intelligence makes a difference on the field.”

As Olsen goes, so often goes United. The fact that Olsen lasted so long on the field is a good omen for the club, which clearly lacked his leadership last year.

“I held up better than most people expected and maybe exceeded my expectations,” said Olsen, an 11-year veteran with United. “The adrenaline and extra-strength Tylenol gets you through things.”

United played with a five-man midfield against the Galaxy, a formation that appeared beneficial to Olsen, whose days of making long, speedy runs on the right flank might be over. With the energetic Rodney Wallace on the left and Devon McTavish on the right, Olsen was able to position himself behind forward Christian Gomez alongside Clyde Simms in the United midfield.

“We didn’t adjust [the formation] for me, but my position is where I don’t have to do those 50-yard runs up the flanks and turn round and do 50 yards back after the ball is turned over,” Olsen said. “It’s more of a safety position where you are moving slowly trying to block up holes. For 10 to 15 yards, I’m still fairly - I won’t say quick - but I can survive out there.”

Olsen suggests his role is more mental than physical. With a number of rookies on the field, the 31-year-old is there to guide traffic and keep the shape of the team together.

“I think what [coach Tom Soehn] expects of me is to bring a presence out there,” Olsen said. “Not so much with myself running around like a maniac but more just keeping guys in check and keeping guys in tune with the game and keeping the concentration for the entire time.”

Olsen now sees himself in a role similar to his former mentor with United, Richie Williams.

“The more I look back on my early days with Richie, he made me such a better player because he realized I was a young player and he realized that young players tune out,” Olsen said. “When I was about fading, he kept me on my toes. So I’ll try and do that with guys.”

Meantime defender Greg Janicki - who collided with his teammate McTavish in the Los Angeles game, leaving both players with bloody gashes - hopes to play in United’s home opener against the Chicago Fire at RFK Stadium on Saturday night.

“I don’t think I got too much of a concussion, but I should be OK,” Janicki said. “I’ve had some headaches, but it wasn’t too bad. I didn’t black out.”

Janicki needed eight stitches to close the wound on his forehead, while McTavish needed seven staples on the top of his head.

“I just didn’t know who I hit,” Janicki said. “I rolled over and then saw Devon the ground. He didn’t see me, and I didn’t see him.”

If Janicki plays in Saturday’s game, he likely will have to deal with Chicago forward Brian McBride, a big player who carries numerous scars from head wounds.

“Hopefully I don’t break this open again,” said Janicki, pointing to his forehead, “when I go up against him.”

Note - United waived defender Ryan Miller, whom it acquired off waivers from the Columbus Crew in September.

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