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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."

Bastaic, readying his sign holders.

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."

By Dan Steinberg  |  June 29, 2008; 4:25 PM ET
Categories:  D.C. United  
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Next: Morning Look: Bearded Gilbert


Ben Olsen will coach United someday, but hopefully not until he gets another MLS Cup.

Posted by: Colm | June 29, 2008 5:07 PM | Report abuse

Nothing better than that second half chant from the barra brava: F$# you, Beckham, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap

Posted by: Classy | June 29, 2008 5:19 PM | Report abuse


That was the finest tifosi I have ever seen at an American soccer game.

Congratulations to the Barra for setting a remarkable standard!

And may the moment inspire Ben when the road to fitness seems endless.

There it is.

Posted by: RayWhitney | June 29, 2008 8:23 PM | Report abuse


I hope you're kidding. The F-word is funny to 11 year olds, and the "F-you [insert player name here] is uncreative, stupid and vulgar for vulgar's sake. It's not funny, or memorable, and just makes us look like we're too dumb to come up with something better or like we're adolescents who think cursing is oh so cool. It's humiliating and it has to stop.

Posted by: Jon | June 29, 2008 10:12 PM | Report abuse

Any pics of the tifo at it's peak? I missed it on the broadcast

Posted by: Taylor | June 29, 2008 10:30 PM | Report abuse

@ Taylor et all, we should have better pics on here tomorrow, and there will be Comcast SportsNet video of the whole tifo display on Wednesday or so, I believe.

Posted by: Dan Steinberg | June 29, 2008 10:36 PM | Report abuse

I was honored to be holding a black piece of construction paper.

Posted by: sitruc | June 29, 2008 11:29 PM | Report abuse

Face it, Ben's just anxious that Tino might get too comfortable at Ben's old spot in the starting 11 . . .

He's just protecting his future . . . which, I hope, is long and prosperous.

Posted by: delantero | June 29, 2008 11:55 PM | Report abuse

It's humiliating and it has to stop.

Posted by: Jon | June 29, 2008 10:12 PM
It's a silly four-letter word, nothing really to get that emotional over.

Posted by: kasdc | June 30, 2008 9:15 AM | Report abuse

So Dan, when are you going to include the SEs in the Bog?

Posted by: Anonymous | June 30, 2008 10:16 AM | Report abuse

So Dan, when are you going to include the SEs in the Bog?

Posted by: | June 30, 2008 10:16 AM

Please - you didn't do anything cool yesterday - in fact, the sections were sparsely populated until kickoff. In football supporter terms... the Barra owned you.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 30, 2008 11:21 AM | Report abuse

I ment it more as in "heart of a lion, body of an ape" but that was too long for a banner.

Hope Ben doesn't read comments :D

Posted by: Srdan, La Barra | June 30, 2008 11:42 AM | Report abuse

As fantastic a time it is partying and hanging out with the Barra, yesterday was the most fun I've had all year long. What a day!

Posted by: Chico | June 30, 2008 12:22 PM | Report abuse

kasdc do you have kids?

Posted by: Joe | June 30, 2008 1:14 PM | Report abuse

Barra just owns the SE's. They are the new leaders in the clubhouse in terms of supporter's groups.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 30, 2008 1:18 PM | Report abuse

It's not a competion. We both support United 100% in our own ways. To denigrate the SE is absurd and a slap in the face at some people who work very hard to make their group as big and vibrant as it is.

Posted by: Chico | June 30, 2008 1:31 PM | Report abuse

Chico is spot on.

Posted by: Bootsy | June 30, 2008 2:39 PM | Report abuse

he is spot on !!!!!

come on eagles you cant ask to be put anywhere until you do something aside from following the barra with their chants and everything they do!

Posted by: Anonymous | June 30, 2008 3:03 PM | Report abuse

Uh, 3:03pm, I think you missed the point.

Posted by: Bootsy | June 30, 2008 3:24 PM | Report abuse

As far as classy/Joe's concern about dirty words is concerned, this may be instructive about how a lot of people feel about it;

Posted by: Bootsy | June 30, 2008 3:25 PM | Report abuse

I get it. I just don't want someone sitting next to my kid screaming a string of f-bombs now. I try to sit in the family part of the stadium anyway. When he's older we'll sit, excuse me, stand with the supporters groups on the loud side.

Posted by: Joe | June 30, 2008 3:44 PM | Report abuse

As an SE member, I applaud Barra Brava and all of their great work. They are a big reason DCU games are such an awesome experience. They do a lot and they deserve the attention they get.

That being said, I prefer to watch the game with the SE. That's just my preference. I don't need the headlines. That's not why I am an Eagle.

Vamos United!

Posted by: El Muñeco | June 30, 2008 5:29 PM | Report abuse

Ben Olsen represents D.C. United, MLS, and U.S. soccer very well. He plays hard but isn't opposed to helping up an opponent after a tough foul.

Posted by: Arlington Pimp | June 30, 2008 5:34 PM | Report abuse

Thanks Chico.

The reality is that the SE section looked great Sunday - the scarf wall we set up during introductions looked awesome, and our 4 or 5 player-specific banners and the 65 flags waving throughout the game looked great too.

But the Barra deserve all the credit and notice they've gotten for the Olsen tifo. It was truly outstanding - worthy of the player it honored.

Posted by: Paul | July 1, 2008 11:11 AM | Report abuse

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