After missing D.C. United's playoff opener and the first few training sessions this week with a strained calf muscle, veteran midfielder Ben Olsen appears ready to return to D.C. United's starting lineup for tomorrow's series finale against the Chicago Fire at RFK Stadium.

"Everything's pretty good right now," he said after participating in full workouts yesterday. "I haven't felt any pain in two days of training. I went at it, played 11 [against] 11 [Thursday], and it felt good to get back and get the mind moving. I've just got to be careful here and make sure it's okay to be an option to play."

Olsen, who started most of the regular season in defensive midfield, got hurt in the days leading to Game 1 of United's MLS first-round series with the Fire last Friday. He tested his leg during warmups at Soldier Field, but when it became clear he couldn't play, Coach Peter Nowak had to juggle his lineup at the last minute.

"It's not ideal" to have not played in a meaningful game in two weeks, Olsen said, "but we'll see. It's still a soccer game out there; I've played in a couple. It should come back pretty quickly."

Last week, in Olsen's absence, Nowak pushed right back Bryan Namoff into defensive midfield, moved defender Brandon Prideaux from the left to the right and started John Wilson on the left side. If Olsen is unable to play tomorrow, Nowak could repeat that formation or perhaps insert Clyde Simms into defensive midfield and leave the back line intact.

"Everyone is getting better, including Ben," Nowak said. "We have different options. There are a lot of guys who can step up on the field and make a difference. We didn't make a decision yet. I think everyone is ready. This is the most important thing -- to keep the group ready. Whoever will play, whoever will start, they have a responsibility to do the job. Everyone understands how important this game is."

Fire's Armas Is Out

While Olsen is close to returning, the Fire's midfield leader, Chris Armas, is not expected to play tomorrow after spraining his left knee in Game 1. The team has listed him as doubtful, though the fear is that he tore his anterior cruciate ligament.

Armas, 33, missed out on a U.S. World Cup roster spot in 2002 after tearing the ACL in his left knee a month before the tournament began. He started 22 regular season matches for the Fire this year. . . .

Alecko Eskandarian, United's leading scorer last year who has been sidelined since June after suffering a concussion, said his neurologists have told him he should be healthy by the middle of December.

"I've got to go easy for now," he said. "I'm just looking forward to next season."

During his layoff, Eskandarian, 23, enrolled in three classes at American University: public speaking, stress reduction and introduction to music. The credits are being transferred back to Virginia, which he left after his junior year in 2002. . . .

United finished yesterday's training session by practicing penalty kicks, which would determine the series winner if the teams play another tie and no one scores in a 30-minute overtime. The only other time United had to go to a penalty kick tiebreaker this year was in the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals in August, when D.C. made only 1 of 3 and lost to Dallas. . . .

A team spokesman said more than 15,000 tickets had been sold by yesterday morning for tomorrow's match and a crowd of around 20,000 is expected. United averaged 16,664 during the regular season.

Midfielder Ben Olsen, right, appears ready to return to the starting lineup after missing United's playoff opener in Chicago with a strained calf muscle.