One of the topics that Santino Quaranta wanted to emphasize while talking about his recovery from drug addiction and 90-day stay at a clinic in Southern California was the support of his teammates, notably midfielders Jaime Moreno and Ben Olsen.
"I've talked a lot with Jaime and Benny. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for them. I know wouldn't be here," says Quaranta, who also underwent extensive foot surgery in early October, two weeks before entering rehab. "I talked to Benny while I was in there. When people heard I was in there for 90 days they knew it was serious."
Sunday at RFK Stadium, just before Olsen ended more than seven months of his own rehabilitation from ankle surgeries last November by stepping onto the field for the first time in 2008, he briefly traded hugs with Quaranta, who'd suffered a hamstring injury earlier in the match.
"He's one of my favorite people in this sport," says Olsen, a Pennsylvania native who can somehow identify with a teammate eight years younger and five inches taller from another state and vastly different background. "From day one we clicked. I'm not an inner-city kid, but I've always wanted to be an inner-city kid. It's a Baltimore-Harrisburg thing.
"It's only an hour away and there's some similarities to the knuckleheads in both cities, lovable knuckleheads. I was happy that he was coming back and that this was going to be his turn."
Olsen got his turn on Sunday and came through his 15 minutes without incident. Rather than undergo another surgery last week to insert screws in his painful left ankle and possibly be out for the rest of the season, he and Coach Tom Soehn decided to give it a go. More will be known about his condition this week; D.C. can use another body, with a U.S. Open game Tuesday against Rochester and SuperLiga matches commencing July 12.
Olsen could be back on the bench or under the knife soon enough, or he might soon be locked in a battle for playing time with Quaranta at right midfield. Truth be told, nothing would please Quaranta more. Olsen, he says, has been an inspiration while enduring long months of uncertainty about his fragile ankles, and persistent rumors that retirement might be imminent.
Watching Olsen, who has fought and scrapped without recourse since entering the league in 1998, reminds Quaranta of what he very nearly threw away on pain pills and other abused substances. When he started his comeback in February, Quaranta found himself rooting for Olsen as much as himself.
Olsen's career, like that of Quaranta has been marred by injuries - he missed the entire 2001 season and in 2000 and 2002 played only 23 games - yet still totals more than 250 games in all competitions.
"I talked to him all throughout, last year and this offseason," says Quaranta. "He knew where I was mentally and physically before. Not a lot of people really knew where I was.
"It's hurt me bad. When he got the surgery, we talked about it. I said, 'Benny, I did everything wrong.' I told him he was going to be fine and to just take care of it.
"And now I come in and see him, and I play on the right now, and I feel like he's helped me get here and I'm so grateful that Ben has helped me. But I want him to play, I want a couple more years with him, because I have a little bit more time in my career than he does.
"To be honest, I would have been content watching him play and being a contributor."
Yet despite his long years of service to D.C., the only MLS club he's ever played for, Olsen believes not until last year did he attain a level of consistent contributions to match his fire and no-frills style. Quaranta used to be one of those players whose good days could be brilliant, and his off-days miserable. Before he went off with a sore hamstring, he earned a penalty kick that Moreno converted for the first goal in what turned into a 4-1 rout.
"That week-to-week stuff is tough," says Olsen, 31. "I tell people I had my first consistent season last year, in my whole career. When I say consistent, I mean that each game, you're contributing in some way.
"You're going to have games when you don't play great, it wasn't your day to shine or score goals or get assists, but are you contributing? Do you realize, 'Today my feet aren't that great so I'm going to put in the work defensively? Am I contributing to this team on the day?' The way he's playing right now, if he continues it will be a very good year for him.
"You see it with players who struggle. They try to do too much rather than just get through those tough times. You can't be great every game, you're going to go through bad patches. How you contribute through those bad patches in one thing that makes good players great."
All the 4-1 victory over the Galaxy did was raise United to the .500 level at 7-7-1 and into third place in the Eastern Conference. But MLS, beware: D.C. is building momentum, moving in the right direction, and for the first time perhaps since capturing its last title in 2004, getting back that hungry look, with or without No. 14.