Olsen spent the vast majority of his professional career in the United States with D.C. United in Major League Soccer, which he joined straight out of college. Over the course of 12 seasons with United, Olsen made 221 appearances, scoring 29 goals and making 49 assists. During that time he won two MLS Cup titles, two MLS Supporters' Shields and one U.S. Open Cup winners medal. His individual honors include two-time MLS All-Star, 1998 MLS Rookie of the Year, MLS Cup '99 MVP and 2007 MLS Best XI.
Olsen also earned 37 caps with the United States men's national team, winning the 2005 CONCACAF Gold Cup and representing the United States at the 2006 FIFA World Cup.
Olsen announced his retirement from professional competition on November 24, 2009.
Olsen grew up in Middletown, Pennsylvania. He played his youth soccer for premier team FC Delco, where he was inducted into the club's Hall of Fame. Olsen attended Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary School and Middletown Area High School, where he was named Parade magazine's National High School Player of the Year in 1993.
Olsen was motivated to play college soccer at the University of Virginia because the team had just won four NCAA Division I Championships and was coached by Bruce Arena, who had previously coached Olsen when he was 14 to 15 years old. While at UVA the Cavaliers won two Final Fours and two ACC Men's Soccer Tournaments with Olsen being honored as the ACC Tournament MVP in 1997. In that same year the Cavaliers advanced to the NCAA final after Olsen scored two goals to lift the Cavaliers 3-1 over the St. Louis Billikens in the semifinal round. In his three-year career he tallied 34 goals, 41 assists and 109 total points. During his junior year he was named the 1997 Soccer America Player of the Year.
Olsen entered the league as a Project-40 player, and was allocated to D.C. United on December 27, 1997, shortly after finishing his junior season at UVA. In 1998 Olsen excelled as a right midfielder with United. During his inaugural season he earned a starting spot and scored 4 goals and made 8 assists. These accomplishments earned him the 1998 MLS Rookie of the Year Award and supported the team as it won the 1998 CONCACAF Champions Cup and 1998 InterAmerican Cup.
During Olsen's second season with United he scored 5 goals and made 11 assists over 26 games, which contributed to United earning the 1999 Supporters' Shield on the way to winning MLS Cup '99. It was United's third MLS Cup victory in the first four years of the league. Olsen, the game's MVP, was especially happy to win the championship game after losing MLS Cup '98 to the Chicago Fire.
This is real special to me to get this monkey off my back. It's nice to get the goal. I didn't think that I played that particularly well. Believe me. I'm not the MVP of this game.
Olsen's third season began well, but a collision with Chicago Fire goalkeeper Zach Thornton caused an ankle injury that kept Ben out of much of the second half of the season, limiting him to 13 starts and only 1 goal and 3 assists on the year. After he recovered from the ankle injury in late 2000, Olsen was loaned by United to Nottingham Forest of the English First Division, where he immediately impressed and soon became a fan favorite. As a transfer became increasingly likely, Olsen severely fractured his ankle during a December game. During his 18-month absence Olsen required four surgeries and continuous rehabilitation. He finally returned in July 2002 and was able to finish the season with 7 starts and 10 games played.
In 2003 Olsen completed a full season with United for the first time in four years. He started 26 games for the team, while scoring 4 goals and making 7 assists. Although his speed was limited due to his injuries and surgeries, Olsen was able to adapt to a new position as a center midfielder. It was here that Olsen spent his time in 2004 as well, starting 25 games for United, scoring 3 goals and 4 assists. He scored 2 goals and 4 assists in 2005.
D.C. United needed Olsen back at wide midfielder for the 2007 season, and he responded well. He served as Captain when Jaime Moreno was away on national team duty, scored his first career hat trick in a 4-2 win over New York Red Bulls on June 10, and enjoyed his best season in MLS. He ended the year with seven goals and seven assists and was named to the MLS Best XI team. Olsen had surgery on both of his ankles in Baltimore on November 5, 2007.
Ankle problems again sidelined Olsen for the beginning of the 2008 MLS season, and there was speculation that his career was in jeopardy. Despite said problems, Ben Olsen was able to make one MLS appearance against the Los Angeles Galaxy on June 28, 2008. The crowd greeted him with the loudest ovation of the day and a tifo that read "Ben Olsen" and "Heart Of A Lion". After playing just 15 minutes Olsen responded to the media by stating, "It wasn't great; I was like a wounded animal out there." On July 7, 2008 Olsen underwent another ankle surgery.
Olsen was able to continue his career during the 2009 season in a defensive midfield role, scoring the tying goal in stoppage time of a 1-1 tie with the New England Revolution. On May 2, 2009 Olsen injured himself during a game against FC Dallas, which led him to be substituted out during the second half. After skipping two matches he played against Chivas USA at the Home Depot Center on May 16, 2009. Six minutes into that match he aggravated his hamstring.
It was okay throughout the week. The difference between practice and the game, the speed of play and the demands, I thought I could handle it. Sometimes I want to play too badly.
On July 17, 2012 United announced that Olsen would be inducted into the D.C. United Hall of Tradition before a match against the New England Revolution scheduled for September 15.
Olsen at one time seemed like the right midfielder of the future for the U.S. national team, as he received his first cap soon after his Rookie of the Year season, on November 6, 1998 against Australia, and he was a significant player for the team in the 1999 season. He scored his first international goal during his first international start, which was against Chile on February 21, 1999. As the youngest player on the team. He received a cross from Brian McBride during the 58th minute. He then hit a side volley past goalie Marcelo Ramirez into the left corner of the goal. In 1999, he earned the U.S. Soccer Young Male Athlete of the Year award. However, the injuries that kept him out of club play also seriously damaged his aspirations for the national team.
Despite those injuries he was able to compete in the 2000 Summer Olympics for the United States, which placed fourth overall in the competition. Olsen's third career international goal earned the United States a tie with Tunisia during an international friendly in preparation for World Cup qualifying. He scored in injury time when John O'Brien passed him the ball after a corner kick.
After moving to a controlling midfield position, Olsen was one of the selections on Bruce Arena's 2006 FIFA World Cup roster, having scored goals in the U.S. team's early 2006 win over Guatemala and in an April tie with Jamaica. Olsen earned 35 caps in all, scoring 6 goals for the United States. Olsen made his lone World Cup appearance against Ghana in a 2-1 loss, replacing an injured Claudio Reyna.
United announced Olsen's retirement from professional competition on October 24, 2009. Only three days earlier Olsen stated in an online chat hosted by The Washington Post that he was committed to playing another year. At the time of his retirement Olsen ranked second in games played, minutes played, game-winning goals, third in assists and shots on goal for United.
His retirement prompted numerous expressions of appreciation. On the same day he announced his retirement the Washington Wizards saluted Olsen at the end of the third quarter. In his honor the Wizards announced $14 tickets to a game against the Philadelphia 76ers, which reflected Olsen's jersey number for United.
Ben Olsen has been called the heart and soul of D.C. United and, over the years, that is exactly what we’ve come to expect from him. Since he joined our team as the League's first Project-40 player until his last game in the 2009 season, Ben gave all that he had for his team and his teammates. You can’t replace a player like Ben, you simply hope that other players can step up and shoulder the mantle that he carried for so long. He's simply one of the greatest players in D.C. United history.
On January 5, 2010 United announced that Olsen would continue to work for United as an assistant coach under head coach Curt Onalfo. On August 5, following a league-worst 3-12-3 start to the season, head coach Curt Onlafo was fired. Subsequently, Olsen was named interim head coach and completed the season with a 3-8-1 record. Although United officials interviewed at least seven candidates, including Hertha Berlin manager Lucien Favre, the club appointed Olsen to the head coaching position. United made a public announcement on November 29, 2010 and held a press conference in the same room Olsen had announced his retirement one year and one month earlier. Olsen signed a three-year guaranteed contract that made him United's seventh head coach in club history and youngest full-time head coach in the league's 15-year history. This occurred despite the fact that United President and CEO Kevin Payne had continuously ruled him out during the months leading up to the decision.
I don't think he's ready. … It's been a great learning experience for Ben and I am sure he will learn a great deal over the next couple of years. I fully expect Ben will be our head coach someday.
In a promotion for the upcoming 2011 season, United gave away free half-smokes in conjunction with Ben's Chili Bowl, which was renamed "Ben Olsen's Chili Bowl" for one hour on March 17, 2011 .
In a largely disappointing 2013 season where United was last in the Eastern Division, Olsen led the team to the 2013 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final against Real Salt Lake. The team won on a first half stoppage time goal by Lewis Neal.
Olsen is a licensed minister and presided over the nuptials of his then-teammate, Nick Rimando, in 2005. He is married to Megan Schoen, a teacher at Takoma Park Middle School. The two wed in Negril, Jamaica in December 2006. Their wedding was featured in Brides Magazine. Megan gave birth to their daughter, Ruby, on September 30, 2008.
The couple would later feature in a popular TV commercial for Dick's Sporting Goods, in which Olsen enjoys an impromptu soccer skills exhibition with fellow MLS players Brian Ching, Duilio Davino and Christian Gómez, before he and Megan chase their screen son, "Dawson", out of the store when he has the temerity to ask for a David Beckham jersey.
Olsen has rented out the apartment below his Northwest, Washington, D.C. town house to numerous teammates, including to D.C. United goalkeeper Zach Wells during the 2008 season.United States
CONCACAF Gold Cup Champions (1): 2005
Major League Soccer Supporter's Shield (3): 1999, 2006, 2007
Major League Soccer MLS Cup (2): 1999, 2004
Major League Soccer Eastern Conference Championship (3): 1998, 1999, 2004
Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup (1): 2008
CONCACAF Champions' Cup (1): 1998
Copa Interamericana (1): 1998
Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup (1): 2013
MLS Best XI: 2007
MLS Rookie of the Year: 1998
MLS Cup MVP: 1999
MLS Coach of the Year: 2014