Ben Olsen: Heart of a Lion
So David Beckham comes to town, and somehow Ben Olsen winds up stealing the spotlight.
Well, sure, there were a lot more L.A. 23 jerseys in the stands than Olsen 14s. Every other grade-school kid was promoting Herbalife, the Galaxy's uniform sponsor. Lots more squealing women held up their cameras and cell phones when Becks approached than for Olsen. Beckham did his own press conference, which Olsen didn't. (Highlight? When someone asked Becks about the crowd, and he said "I've heard a lot worse." Either that, or when he told some reporter her tape recorder had stopped, and then flipped over the tape for her.) And after Olsen had switched jerseys with L.A.'s Alan Gordon and began signing autographs following D.C. United's 4-1 domination, some kid told me he had just gotten Gordon's signature. That doesn't happen to Beckham.
Still, from the massive pre-game Barra Brava display in Olsen's honor to the standing ovation when he made his season debut late in the second half to his repeated saluting of the United fans, people will remember this one for No. 14's influence just as much as No. 23's. And so, presenting an oral history of the Barra's fortuitously timed Ben Olsen tribute, which included between 600 and 700 color-coded pieces of paper, one massive "Heart of a Lion" banner, and one 20 foot-by-40 foot portrait of a Lion with the number 14.
Barra member Carlos Solares: "It all came about because at the New York game, the New York fans were kind of cruel, they were personally attacking Ben Olsen. So we just wanted to let everybody know, even though he hasn't played this year, he still has our support, and we're here to represent."
Barra elder Srdan Bastaic: "Who doesn't like Ben Olsen? Everybody loves Ben Olsen. He's a legend of the club and we want him to get better. That's what the theme was."
Barra elder Chico Solares: "Dude, man, he IS D.C. United. He's the heart of the team, he's the spirit of the team."
Bastaic: No comment on what the suggestion was when I said 'heart of a lion.' It was another animal. I'm kidding Ben. Don't kill me."
Chico Solares: "More like a Geico caveman. But we still love him."
Ben Olsen: "No, more like a monkey."
Santino Quaranta: "He looks like [a monkey] more than a lion, but that's the way he is, down to earth."
Dan Steinberg: "So, uh, how do you coordinate a color-coded well-timed tri-color display with your reputation for, you know, enjoying yourselves before the game begins?"
Bastaic: "Everyone in Croatia drinks more and they can still do it."
Carlos Solares: "It's just organized chaos. It just happens. I can't explain it. It just comes about. There is no organization."
Random Barra member, to Beckham: "TELL YOUR WIFE TO EAT A STEAK!"
Random Barra member: "It's the magic of the Barra Brava."
Carlos Solares: "There's enough sober people that they will make things happen."
Barra member Paul Planzer: "As uncoordinated as we are before hand, we're more uncoordinated afterwards."
Bastaic: "I don't even want to think about it. Two full days of work. There's a million chances of it going wrong. Oh well. No risk, no gain."
Carlos Solares: "Hey, the players, I think they get inspired by it, by what we do. We just want them to know, it doesn't matter if you haven't stepped on the field, we're there to talk care of you."
Bastaic: "Two weekends, one Saturday, a Friday, another Saturday, 12, 14 hours each day, about six people....I don't know, man, it's worth it for one minute. I can't explain it. It's just worth it. A lot of people do it around the world, so we're not the only crazy ones."
Barra founder Oscar Zambrana: "Players come and go, right? So if they stay long they deserve something. We really appreciate what he's meant to the group, so we did something, a little tribute, you know, that we wanted to do for Benny for being around, for being a great guy."
Planzer: "It's gonna be the most awesomest thing you guys have seen."
Barra member Banshee Jay: "The team sees it, Olsen sees it, and that's all that really matters."
Olsen: "You know, I just don't understand it. I really don't. These people here, they're just so supportive. I mean, all I do, I play hard, but it's not because I have this great heart. I just like to play soccer, I like to play for this team and I guess they appreciate it."
Quaranta: "It's amazing what he brings to this team....He works as hard if not harder than anyone in this league, and he's more important that he really realizes to this team."
Olsen: "It's emotional. You know, a lot of this stuff, you act like 'Oh, it's not a big deal,' but I like to play soccer. This is my living. I want to come back, but again, it's going to be a long road back. But I'd like to thank the fans for helping me through this and giving me the benefit of the doubt. I'm getting choked up just thinking about it."
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