May 20, 2013, 11:57 AM EST
Jamison Olave can dominate a game like few MLS center backs can. Everyone knows so – everyone paying attention, anyway.
The issue was never about ability for the 6-foot-3 Colombian, who looks a lot like an NFL linebacker but has the precision timing a special ops soldier, the recover speed of a college sprinter and the feet of a midfielder.
The issue with Olave has always been about staying on the field. In his first years at Real Salt Lake, Olave had anger issues, it seemed, which manifested in yellow and red cards. Those left RSL playing a man down (never helpful) and then without use of their top center back for the next contest.
Once those issues were tamed, his ability to avoid injury became the pressure point. Olave, 32, averaged 24 games a season in his five years at RSL, which is bordering on “concerning.” What was definitely concerning for RSL officials was that the number was declining, from 27 contests in 2010, then to 24 and to then 21 matches last year. So they traded Olave and his relatively high salary.
All that said, all you needed to do in order to recognize his gold-plated value was see Olave win ball after ball Sunday in the Red Bulls’ 1-0 win over the champion LA Galaxy. Even in a game with the man often identified as the league’s top center back, Galaxy man Omar Gonzalez, Olave’s performance stood out.
Here’s what Red Bulls manager Mike Petke said about the Colombian’s massive contribution in a nationally televised meeting of the league’s marquee teams. Petke wonderfully sums up what his play and his presence means for the men in Harrison:
The biggest reason we brought him here is for what he’s been doing. We don’t expect him to be the man building plays out of the back. I couldn’t care less if the ball winds up at his feet once. The way he hunts the ball, the way he reads the game, his catch-up speed is unbelievable and he’s a guy who makes a difference. From the first moment, the first tackle he gets into, he’s somebody that a forward is going to be looking over his shoulder for the rest of the game. He doesn’t do it dirty, he does it very timed, and he does it well.”
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