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This season, Nowak has instituted a strict system of discipline and organization. Following the European tradition, the training ground has become a sacred place. Players are not allowed to wear playing boots inside the locker room and even dirty laundry must be handled properly. Players are expected to be on time for all meetings and cell phones are forbidden. Far from being draconian, however, the rules and fines have come to symbolize a new respect for the team and have even generated some bonding moments. Proving that leadership comes from the top, Nowak himself was even the target of a fine when his cell phone rang out during a team meeting in the preseason. Nowak, who claimed to be set up, cheerfully paid the fine and assumed his place as the target of the team’s humor. “I think the players understand that I’m trying to create a really professional atmosphere. I told them at the beginning that I wouldn’t tolerate anything. If you try to get away with something once, the second time you’re out,” explained Nowak. “But I think they’re really enjoying it. We can joke about it, because they realize that it’s not about me getting the money from them, it’s about respecting each other. As the little things come together, we’ll play together as a unit, and enjoy success as a unit.” The players agree. Many of the more experienced players are adjusting quickly, appreciative of the new atmosphere. The new players will surely follow suit. “Peter brings a certain kind of professionalism, a cutthroat win-at-all-costs mentality. It’s a more European style,” said United captain Ryan Nelsen. “[The younger players] will learn quickly, if they’re not working hard they’re out (the door).”

Phoenix Rising Nowak to lead United through 2004 campaign

It is perhaps fitting that the eagle on the D.C. United crest bears a striking resemblance to the mythological phoenix. The immortal bird was said to create intense excitement and deathless inspiration. At the end of each life cycle, its great beauty would fade and the bird would consume itself in a huge fire, only to be reborn from the ashes. After capturing three of the first four MLS Cup championships, and becoming the most honored club in North American soccer history, D.C. United’s beauty had started to fade. The club faltered, missing the playoffs three straight years, with their 2003 return tarnished by a first round loss. The once beautiful bird was thrown to the fire, losing on a 4-0 aggregate score to Chicago. In the off-season, the symbolic conflagration continued, as Peter Nowak joined the Black-and-Red as the new Head Coach. Nowak, who more than any other player was symbolic of the success of the Chicago Fire, joined D.C. already familiar with United’s success. Prior to joining MLS, Nowak inquired of Chicago head coach Bob Bradley – who had been an assistant coach for United’s first two MLS Cup wins – why he had not selected any D.C. United players in the expansion draft. “Because of their success on the field and how they developed the organization, with Bruce [Arena] and Kevin [Payne], D.C. United was the role model for the entire league,” said Nowak. “It seemed the natural thing, to select players you are familiar with, but Chicago was able to put together a good team. In Chicago, there was no one person responsible, we did things together.” Together is how Nowak plans to return United to the top of the Major League Soccer table. Nowak brings a wealth of international experience with him, and with that comes a new atmosphere. He made his professional debut at the age of 15, joining hometown side WLOK Pabianice, where he would spend his first four years. He led the squad up the ranks from the amateur league to the top flight. He continued his success abroad, enjoying immense success in the German Bundesliga where he was voted Playmaker of the Year for the 199596 season.

“There’s just some growing pains. I think they’re just learning now how to be a professional,” agreed Brandon Prideaux. “For some of the guys, both young and old, it’s difficult, but that’s what makes the difference. You push yourself harder and harder to get better. It’s tough on everybody, but it’s a good kind of tough.” Nowak’s passion is evident in his training philosophy. Along with the new rules, there is a new intensity to training. There is no nonsense allowed and players are expected to give 100% effort at all times. The truest testament to that expectation was seen as the squad embarked on their preseason training. Even with an ice and snow encrusted pitch, Nowak held his first official practice with the Black-and-Red outdoors. As temperatures hovered well below freezing, the team was practicing with Nowak and his staff on the frozen pitch, running hard as if they could at any moment step into the first eleven. “I have a passion for the game. It’s in my blood, in my heart, in my legs,” pined Nowak. “I want to be around these players and bring the same kind of emotions I had as a player.” The team-first attitude is evident in the training. The entire squad trains together, with injured players working on light rehabilitation drills alongside the team, building a strong camaraderie. Despite a long preseason, Nowak is already looking to the season ahead. “I am really impressed with how the team has come together,” he said. “By our second week in Bradenton, they already knew, without me screaming at them, that every single practice, scrimmage and competition is important. The team really enjoyed playing together and adapted to the new style.” Nowak has enjoyed great success as a player in MLS, and he joins a club with an equally impressive pedigree. Despite that success, Nowak is only looking forward. “You cannot turn the clock back. We cannot continue to look over our shoulders,” he said. “All these trophies are great, but it is the past. I finished my playing career in Chicago, and I love the Chicago fans, but I have a new love in my heart. We want to get back to the values that D.C. United has supported in the past.” And like the mythological phoenix, D.C. United stands poised to rise from the ashes of former greatness.

He worked through his rehab process, fighting concerns about his future. “I didn’t know [if I would retire],” said Moreno. “I just wanted to see how my body would recover. I wanted to make sure that I would be able to play again.” Something that was never in question though, was Moreno’s desire to return. With the help of former Redskins linebacker Eddie Mason, Moreno embarked on a grueling rehab process, working to develop not only his physical fitness, but also re-develop the confidence he once owned. One person who was absolutely sure Moreno could return to his former glory was Kevin Payne. Now President and CEO of D.C. United, Payne contacted Moreno during the off-season and extended the former star a chance to train with his former team as a trialist. “We felt that the club owed Jaime an opportunity to prove himself,” said Payne. “He has been among our most important players over the years, and certainly been our – and I believe the League’s – best all-around forward through 1999.” Moreno joined the Black-and-Red full-time during the team’s pre-season trip to Bradenton, FL. As the not-so-young-anymore Bolivian struggled through the team’s three-a-day workouts, he began to question whether his body would allow him to return to his old form. “In the beginning [of the Bradenton camp], I had a few doubts,” said Moreno. “I was feeling a lot of pain, not just in my back but through my whole body. I was aching from being out for eight months.”

Returning to Form With a New-found Passion, Moreno Returns to United

In August 1996, a young Bolivian was signed to a Major League Soccer contract and allocated to D.C. United. A transfer from English Premiership side Middlesbrough, the youngster came well recommended by fellow Bolivian Marco Etcheverry. At the time, United’s then-GM Kevin Payne made a strong prediction: “[He] is well known as a promising young player. He’s a different kind of player than anyone we have right now. He can make us a more dangerous team.” The prediction came true, as the young Bolivian star made an immediate impact in MLS, missing only 20 minutes of play in his nine match appearances for United – all of them starts. He scored three goals and added three assists in the regular season, and would add a goal and an assist in the playoff run, helping the Black-andRed capture their first MLS Cup. Jaime Moreno would continue his stellar form throughout the next several years, winning MLS’ golden boot for most goals scored in the 1997 season despite missing seven games to Bolivian National Team duty. He was named to the All-Star team in 1997 and chosen as a starter. He was chosen in the AT&T Bext XI in 1997 and 1999 and was United’s leading scorer in 1997 and 2000 – missing league-wide honors by a single point in 1997. His success came at a price, however. As one of the most dangerous players in the Black-and-Red attack, Moreno became one of the most fouled players in MLS. As the fouls came so did injuries, with the potent striker undergoing knee surgery in January 2001. Moreno continued to struggle throughout 2002, making limited appearances as he fought injuries, fouls, and even criticism from fans questioning his work ethic. Moreno was traded to the MetroStars in the 2002 off-season, as part of a five-player deal but he would continue to fight injuries. He appeared in only 11 matches before being placed on the injured reserve list in August, ending his season. Moreno underwent surgery to correct a pair of herniated discs in his lower back and was on the road to recovery. But he didn’t fit into the MetroStars plans, and his contract was allowed to expire. Out of contract for the first time in his career and unsure if he would ever be able to play soccer again, Moreno was concerned.

Moreno continued to work hard in United’s pre-season training, earning the praise of his teammates and the coaching staff. “Before we brought him here, there were some doubts,” said D.C. United Head Coach Peter Nowak. “He’s proved to us that he’s recovered though. Without a question, it’s behind him. He’s shown that he really wants to be a part of this team.” Nowak’s praise was echoed by Payne, saying, “We of course had concerns about whether or not Jaime could recover from [his injuries]. But his work ethic has never been an issue in my mind. The work he’s done to come back to this point should emphasize that.” As United embarked for their final preseason training camp, Moreno was still just a trialist. But with a strong performance in the Carolina Challenge Cup, he cemented his place. “We had to make a decision in Charleston,” said Nowak. “He put a lot of pressure [on the opposition] and played very well. At that point, we knew that we were going to keep him hungry, and that he was going to be the same Jaime we knew.” With Moreno’s roster spot locked up, the only concern remaining was whether the two sides could agree to contract terms. “[The negotiation process] wasn’t easy,’ said Moreno. “We went back and forth. I was just asking for something fair – nothing too high – and they knew that. I wanted to stay, but they didn’t take advantage of it.” Also making the negotiation process difficult were concerns about future injuries. The final obstacle was overcome, as MLS allowed United to structure a unique contract for Moreno so that all parties were satisfied. “It’s a measure of the League’s regard for Jaime that it was willing to be flexible in allowing us to see whether he would be able to get back to the level we believed he could once again achieve,” said Payne. “I think it’s self-evident he has done that, and I expect him to get better and better as he regains his speed and stamina, and his confidence.” “I think we’ll see the dangerous Jaime of old for the remainder of this season. That’s good news for everyone who plays on the field with him, and bad news for the teams that have to play against him.”

with the only stalling point the size of the transfer fee. That is, until March 2001, when a severely fractured ankle ended Olsen’s loan to Forest. Olsen would miss the entire 2001 MLS soccer season recovering from the injury. He underwent four surgeries on the ankle, completing the regimen on June 11th, 2002. He immediately set to training, and made his first appearance on July 27th, recapturing his spot in the starting XI nearly two years to the day after his last appearance for the Black-and-Red. It was as if he’d never left. Olsen continues to show the dedication to D.C. United that marked his outstanding rookie season. He continues to give his all on the pitch and off. One of the hardest workers on the pitch, his passion for the game is evidenced by the little things he does. He is often the first person in the locker room before practice, taking care of his body. After games, he is always open to questions from the media and is very well-spoken and in control no matter the situation. And when asked about his aspirations for the future, his love for D.C. United is clear. “My aspirations right now are D.C. United being a championship team,” said Olsen matter-of-factly. “That’s the only thing in my control. That’s all I can focus on, helping in some way to get us back where we were, to help bring back the trophies.” And were you to just know that, Olsen’s story would be impressive enough. But in addition to his tremendous work ethic on the field, Olsen is just as dedicated to D.C. United off the pitch.

The Consummate Professional On the pitch and off, Ben Olsen is a role model.

He would continue his strong form into 1999, netting five goals and 11 assists in regular season play. Olsen added a pair of goals during United’s run to glory in 1999, including a game-winner in the first game of the Eastern Conference Finals against Columbus.

At D.C. United’s 2004 Meet the Team Day, an annual event for season ticket holders to meet the players and coaching staff, the attendance was overwhelming. A line stretched throughout the restaurant and spilled into the parking lot. Even after a hardfought match against Los Angeles the night before, the players were hard at work, getting only one break in a three hour stretch – ten minutes to stuff down their food, barely enough time to taste it – before going back at it. At 4:30 p.m., the doors were mercifully closed, a full half-hour after the scheduled 4:00 cutoff. But up to the very end, one player had a huge smile on his face, genuinely happy to be there. It was just another way for Olsen to give back to the fans that have supported him and the club so much.

His success vaulted him into the U.S. National Team picture, where he was named to Bruce Arena’s 2000 Gold Cup side. He played a full 90 minutes in the opening match against Haiti, and came off the substitute’s bench against Peru and Colombia. He was also a member of the U.S. U-23 National Team, bronze-medal winners in the Sydney Olympics.

Olsen has always been excited to give back to the community, whether here or abroad. Like D.C. United, Nottingham Forest is a club dedicated to making an impact in their community. Olsen was always interested in helping. Always the willing volunteer, children both here and abroad took a quick liking to the wellrounded player.

With all of this success, Olsen soon attracted interest from abroad. In the summer of 2000, David Platt, then manager of Nottingham Forest, took note of a “bright, lively and energetic player” in the right side of the U.S. midfield. Platt felt that Olsen could make an immediate impact in the Garibaldi Reds’ first team, so he contacted United to arrange a loan for the youngster.

In 2003, his community work was recognized, as Olsen was honored as the U.S. Soccer Foundation Major League Soccer Humanitarian of the Year. He took a large role within several of United’s youth and charitable initiatives, as well as donating his personal time to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Olsen has since been invited to join the board of D.C. United’s charitable arm, United for D.C.

Ben Olsen has been a workhorse for D.C. United since joining the team as part of the Project-40 program in 1998. He played in 43 of United’s 44 matches in all competitions that year, with his four goals and eight assists in League play earning him Rookie of the Year honors.

Olsen jumped into the fray with both feet and immediately became a favorite son of the Reds faithful. His hard work on match day earned him love and adoration from the fans, while his dedication on the training ground won him respect and popularity with his teammates. “[Ben] soon got used to the pace and became a crowd favorite,” said Nottingham Forest Chief Executive Mark Arthur, recalling Olsen’s time at the Midlands club. “Forest fans love players who work hard and give everything to the cause. He worked hard in practice and became popular with his teammates.” He continued to make an impact with Forest, scoring two goals in 18 appearances for the Reds in league play. His strong play fueled transfer talks between Forest and Major League Soccer,

It was an easy decision for Olsen. “If you’re asked to do something to help the club in any way, [you do it],” said Olsen. “I believe in giving back to the community as much as you can. When they [the United for D.C. board] honored me by asking me to sit on the board, of course I said yes.” That is what sets Ben Olsen apart. Olsen is focused on one thing, the present. It’s no coincidence then, that Mark Arthur’s most lasting recollection of him is quite simple. “Apart from being a great person, Ben was the consummate professional soccer player.” Was and is.

DC United Freekick Features  

Three feature articles written for Freekick magazine, the game program of Major League Soccer