By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 22, 2009
Ben Olsen was at his rambunctious best on the first day of D.C. United training camp yesterday, knocking around the ball with purpose, challenging for possession and playfully hassling teammates.
The session lasted only about an hour on the cold training grounds outside RFK Stadium and was hardly the fiercest competition. But for Olsen, it served as the next stage in his comeback from a persistent ankle injury that sidelined him almost all last year and threatened to end a terrific career.
"Today was a positive step. Saying that, talk to me tomorrow morning," Olsen said. "This thing, from day to day, can change. It's kind of exhausting in a lot of ways. You play and you feel, 'Oh man, today I feel great.' And then you wake up and it's not easy getting up the stairs for a while."
Other than a 15-minute appearance against Los Angeles last summer, Olsen has not played competitively in almost 15 months. After a spectacular 2007 season, he had surgery on both ankles to address bone spurs, and while the right ankle improved, the left one continued to give him trouble. An infection worsened the situation and required another procedure.
With a wife and a baby girl at home and a possible front-office job in his future, he envisioned his life without a soccer ball at his feet. He thought about stepping aside after two MLS Cup titles, an all-league selection and a berth on the 2006 U.S. World Cup squad.
"I just didn't know [about coming back], but how can you give this up?" said Olsen, a 31-year-old midfielder who joined United in 1998 from the University of Virginia and has been the club's emotional leader for several years. "How can you not try and get another year out of it? I am not ready to step into that next career, whatever it may be. I still feel like I have a lot to give."
Encouraged by positive results in rehabilitation, he decided to pursue a return. United will concentrate on fitness and conditioning for 10 days before heading to Bradenton, Fla., for intensive workouts. At that point, Olsen will receive his first serious tests.
"We will be very cautious to make sure we don't overwork him," United Coach Tom Soehn said. "There are times you have to shut him down and say, 'Take a step back.' "
In the few training sessions he joined last year, Olsen was able to run but struggled to make quick lateral moves and had to endure constant pain. Progress has been made on both fronts.
Olsen said he is "cautiously optimistic about maybe getting through a season. The verdict on the ankle seems to be, 'It is what it is.' It's not going to get better than it is now. There will be a lot of managing the pain throughout the season, and maybe I am not going to be a guy that starts or plays. I have no idea how this is going to play out."
He has been heartened by recent workouts on his own, saying: "Some days I look like someone shot me, but I am getting through it. Just keep going, keep pushing and see if I can't get through preseason, and if I can get through preseason, go from there."
Olsen's teammates admire his perseverance.
"He is such a fighter," defender Bryan Namoff said. "Fingers crossed. Hopefully we will see him out there for the first whistle of the season."
United Notes: Argentine playmaker Marcelo Gallardo is recovering from adductor surgery and won't join the club for a week to 10 days, General Manager Dave Kasper said. He missed much of last season with hernia and knee injuries. . . . Team captain Jaime Moreno (knee surgery) will not practice until the team shifts training camp to Bradenton. . . .
Defender Gonzalo Peralta has been loaned to Argentine club Union de Santa Fe. . . . Midfielder Ivan Guerrero is with the Honduras national team for several weeks and Brazilian midfielder Fred is renewing his visa and expected to arrive early next week. . . .
Backup goalkeeper Zach Wells is about a month from resuming full-time training after having foot surgery. . . . Second-round draft choice Lyle Adams, a defender from Wake Forest, is exploring European opportunities and might not sign with United. . . .
Kyle Veris, a 6-foot-4 defender who has played for Los Angeles and a Norwegian club, has begun a tryout. . . . Three young midfielders from last year's squad -- Craig Thompson, Quavas Kirk and Ryan Cordeiro -- as well as Sierra Leone defender Ibrahim Koroma, will not return.