United Feels Olsen's Goal-Scoring Touch

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By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 6, 2007

Ben Olsen received a text message from former teammate Antonio Otero the other day.

"He wanted me tested for the growth hormone," cracked Olsen, United's improbable second-leading scorer this season. "I get a lot of jokes."

Neither Olsen's scoring nor United's success is a joking matter anymore.

Olsen, whose rumpled hair and untidy beard epitomize his working-class role on an otherwise glossy club, is suddenly one of MLS's top scorers after another multi-goal performance last weekend. And United, which began the season with three consecutive losses, is suddenly tied with New England atop the Eastern Conference standings with six weeks remaining. The club (13-6-3) will pursue a seventh straight victory tonight against Chivas USA in Carson, Calif.

Olsen, the MLS rookie of the year in 1998, has scored as many goals (seven) in his past 11 league appearances as he did in 68 games the previous three seasons. Saturday's 35-yarder in the fourth minute and opportunistic putaway just before halftime propelled United to a 4-0 victory at Dallas, D.C.'s fourth consecutive road win and its fifth shutout in six outings overall.

"I don't think he would fancy himself as a goal scorer, but it's just a tribute to his hard work, being in the right places and making the right decisions," defender Greg Vanney said. "For a team like ours, when a guy like that is scoring goals, it is a bonus."

The goals are flowing for both Olsen and United, which has shaken off a midseason scoring rut to score 14 times while conceding just one during the winning streak.

Brazilian striker Luciano Emilio is tied for the league lead with 14 goals and is supported by compatriot Fred, who plays on the opposite side from Olsen and has scored in three straight road games; Argentine playmaker Christian Gomez, the 2006 MLS most valuable player who is beginning to find his stride after a sluggish start; and team captain Jaime Moreno, the league's career scoring king.

The surprise, though, is Olsen, once an ambitious winger who has settled into a deep midfield role in recent years. But earlier this season, when United altered its formation and decided to utilize one defensive midfielder instead of two, Olsen was shifted back to the flank.

"People are kind of freaking out that I'm scoring goals, but when you look back when I was playing this position early in my career, I would consistently score five goals per year and get some assists because of where you are on the field," said Olsen, whose previous career high was five in 1999. "When we do play well and we're switching the ball left and right, it can be a dangerous position."

Olsen, 30, missed five matches this summer because of a U.S. national team call-up to Copa America in Venezuela and a persistent ankle problem that will require surgery after the season. Coach Tom Soehn, who has carefully managed playing time of late for his veterans, left Olsen at home as recently as Aug. 25 before a match at Toronto to allow him to recuperate.

"It's going to be a struggle, but it's the pain and we just have to manage it," Olsen said. "It's important I'm honest with [Soehn] so I am not hurting the team. I'm getting a little older now and I can gauge myself."

Soehn is not surprised by Olsen's scoring, saying: "When Benny has cover behind him, although he is not as fast as he used to be, he's still so clever he creates space for himself and realizes times to push forward in the attack. . . . He's just a smart player on the outside."

Still, the sight of a gritty midfielder scoring goals has tickled Olsen's teammates.

"He scored some great goals, some crappy ones, too, but I'll take all of them," defender Bobby Boswell said. "He's getting it done."

United Notes: Moreno has been called up by the Bolivian national team for Wednesday's friendly at Peru and will miss United's match the same night against Real Salt Lake. He will depart following Sunday's game against New England and return late next week. . . . Chivas USA is the only team that has not lost at home this year and has yielded just two goals during those eight matches (7-0-1). . . . United has allowed eight goals in 12 road matches.


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