Ben Olsen’s Evolution From United Player To D.C. Icon

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Written By Chris Azzopardi

Ben Olsen did not grow up in Washington, D.C. He didn’t come to the city until he was 21, joining D.C. United after a childhood in Pennsylvania and a college soccer career at the University of Virginia. His ties to the city and its soccer club were built as an adult, as he spent entirety of his pro career (minus a short loan stint) playing for D.C. United. After his playing days were over, he moved into coaching, and is now headed into his third full season as United’s boss.

But Olsen has whole-heartedly embraced Washington as his hometown since first lacing up his boots for the Black & Red. Whether he lasts three more years at the United helm or twenty (which would be a mean feat), Olsen’s roots in the D.C. swamps go deep. Now, after spending his playing days living in the Northern Virginia suburbs, Olsen has finally made his way into the city. He lives with his wife and two kids in Shaw, a neighborhood in Northwest Washington. The Washington Post featured Olsen and his love of his adopted hometown. Even in a city of transients, Olsen stands out as a especially committed Washingtonian.

“I kept creeping closer to the city,” he said. In 2000, he moved into the District but “just on the inside of Chevy Chase Circle, which isn’t really the city, right?” He finally got to Adams Morgan, he said, “kicking myself for wasting all those years living in Northern Virginia.”

When Olsen, 35, and his wife, Megan, started house hunting in 2007, they homed in on the Shaw and Logan Circle neighborhoods.

“We liked Shaw,” he said. “We were looking for a little less crazy than Adams Morgan, but with the same type of vibe, same type of people. We love the arts, and we’re in an area where there’s plenty of theater and galleries.”

As someone who spent the better part of the last 15 years bouncing between various Northern Virginia neighborhoods, I take some offense at Olsen’s “wasting all those years” comment. Just some though. D.C. isn’t like most big cities, but that’s actually part of its charm. Spend enough time there and you come to appreciate its eccentricities.

One of those eccentricities is D.C.’s status of political limbo. The issue of statehood is a constant talking point in local politics, and the lack of direct representation in Congress remains D.C.’s biggest complaint with the federal government. D.C. residents can get license plates, issued by the city, with the slogan “Taxation Without Representation.” There’s sardonic irony in the fact that those living in the United State’s seat of federal power, named for the conquering general of its revolutionary victory, trumpet a phrase first coined in response to the British treatment of American colonists.

Olsen’s doing his part to spread the word of D.C.’s disenfranchisement, specifically on the issue of Washington’s budgetary freedom. Congress retains ultimate control of D.C.’s budget, an ancillary effect of its status as home of the federal government. D.C. is barred from spending local tax revenue until Congress passes an appropriations bill, figurative handcuffs that regularly threaten critical projects. You can imagine that having temporary residents from Minnesota and Iowa exerting control over the city’s ability to fund schools and emergency services doesn’t sit well with locals.

Olsen joined the “Don’t Be Silenced” campaign, run by D.C. Vote, an organization that advocates for greater independence for D.C. As a model Washingtonian, and the head coach of D.C. United, he’s a perfect fit.

“Ben Olsen is a great example of a well-known community leader who knows what it means to represent the District – as an athlete, as a coach, and as a DC resident,” said DC Vote Executive Director Ilir Zherka. “His involvement means our efforts to educate the public about the fight for DC budget freedom will be more successful.”

Olsen’s ad hit buses and bus shelters around the city back in October.

Major League Soccer hasn’t yet made a habit of turning local kids into club icons through long associations with their clubs. But it does have men like Ben Olsen, players/coaches who came to embody the spirit of not only the team for whom they played, but embraced their new hometowns in all of the ways it takes to turn them into local icons.

Source: The Washington Post, DC Vote

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