Olsen retires after 12 season with D.C. United
WASHINGTON -- Ben Olsen won almost every honor on offer in Major League Soccer over his 12-year professional career with D.C. United, garnering eight team trophies, MLS Rookie of the Year, MLS Cup MVP, two All-Star selections, a Best XI nod, a U.S. Soccer Foundation Humanitarian of the Year award and selection to the USA's 2006 FIFA World Cup squad.But in the end, what mattered most to one of the most tenacious midfielders in league history was the opportunity to chase his 13-month-old daughter Ruby around the house.Citing the chronic pain from his long history of ankle ailments and their potentially crippling aftereffects later in life, Olsen officially called time on his glittering career at RFK Stadium on Tuesday afternoon in a heartfelt press conference that left many of its participants and attendees with moist eyes to match the gray, rainy weather lingering outside."There have been many, many great players over the years at D.C. United, players that we remember and honor in many ways. But I don't know if any of them has made any greater impact on the culture of this club and on the hearts of our fans than Ben Olsen," said United president and CEO Kevin Payne, one of several club officials to struggle with their emotions as they paid tribute to D.C.'s inimitable No. 14."He has left a legacy at this team and in this city that will live for a long time after his playing days."Frank, witty and self-deprecating, Olsen used the majority of his time in front of the microphone to thank his coaches, teammates, fans and club officials for their support over the years."I can't believe this was my career. I was really lucky and there wasn't many things I didn't get to experience. And that's rare," he said. "There's one thing I know I'll miss -- the crowd and the support they give me. I'm a bit of a ham so I tended to eat that stuff up."A gritty midfielder deeply beloved by United supporters for his passionate, relentless approach on the field and his wry, down-to-earth demeanor off it, Olsen overcame expectations to return to action this season after missing almost all of 2008. But the comeback came at a high price, as the balky ankles that have undergone nine total surgeries over the years required a powerful cocktail of painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs to sustain the daily grind of a long, draining campaign."I was very happy -- I didn't think it was going to happen," said the 32-year-old of his '09 renaissance. "But to get back, to get through this year, I got through it, let's say, through modern medicine. It was definitely with the help of anti-inflammatories and shots and things that, I don't know how long you want to keep doing."As the season ended, I wanted to cleanse myself from a lot of that stuff, and then the reality hit. The true ankle, the ankle I'm going to deal with for the rest of my life, showed itself and it spooked me a little bit."In the immediate aftermath of United's season finale against Kansas City, Olsen had expressed a desire to keep playing. But the ensuing weeks hammered home the costs of the ongoing fight against his own body and he decided to put his young family first."I don't mean to be a tough guy ... the pain was real and I don't want to play one more season at a cost of damaging my ankle any further. It's damaged enough," he said.Referring to his daughter, he added, "When you can't carry her down the stairs, it's not that tough a decision. It really isn't."A frenetic winger when he entered the league in 1998, Olsen was slowed by his first outbreak of ankle troubles in 2000 but showed maturity and savvy in adapting his game to a central midfield role. His inspirational leadership will surely be missed by a United team currently undergoing an awkward generational transition."He was that guy in the locker room people kind of gathered around in the morning, just to talk about whatever," said teammate Devon McTavish, who admired Olsen as a young United fan growing up in Winchester, Va. before playing alongside him for the past four seasons."We got a taste of it last year, with him not always being around the locker room, and it wasn't always good. I think a lot of the turmoil in 2008 was the locker room [being] divided -- Ben's always been a good mediator between the young players, the older players, the foreign players, the American players. He brought everyone together."Outgoing and service-minded throughout his career, Olsen steps away from the game as one of the most popular players in United history and on the Washington, D.C. sports scene in general. Noting his status as the longest-tenured professional athlete in the city, District of Columbia officials were on hand at RFK to declare November 24 "Ben Olsen Day" and laud him for his many contributions to his adopted hometown.Olsen was also recognized by the NBA's Washington Wizards, who made tickets to Tuesday night's game against the Philadelphia 76ers available to United fans for $14 in his honor.