Real Salt Lake have placed the success of their defensive line this season on perhaps the broadest shoulders in the league.
But according to hulking Colombian defender Jamison Olave, the same physicality and strength that have made him one of the league’s most imposing defenders could also make him a target for eager referees.
“I’m just bigger, so the tackles look harder,” Olave said through an interpreter. “But I have adapted my game.”
And that adaptation is perhaps bigger this week than ever, with RSL headed for another likely physical showdown against the Houston Dynamo on Thursday night at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Last season Olave was issued a red card in two of the club’s three matches against the Dynamo. When the two teams faced off on April 2, Olave was whistled for two fouls roughly three minutes apart, both leading to penalty kicks and an eventual 2-1 Dynamo win.
Said RSL coach Jason Kreis, bluntly: “We’d prefer that not to happen again.”
On the first foul, Olave was trailing Houston’s Geoff Cameron when the ball was played into the box by Dynamo defender Mike Chabala. The pass was off-target and Cameron made a sudden adjustment to his left, but Olave’s attempt to cut the pass off ended up in tangled legs and Cameron crumbling to the turf.
On the ensuing foul just two minutes later, Olave made a tackle on the Dynamo’s Luis Landin that proved to be the decisive play of the match. The Dynamo forward may have embellished the result of Olave’s aggressive tackle, as slow-motion replays showed that Olave had only slightly clipped the Mexican import’s left foot.
But all that mattered was the real-time impression. Big man, aggressive tackle.
“It’s unfair,” RSL defender Nat Borchers said. “Because he’s a man amongst boys at times.”
“I think his natural ability gets him in trouble sometimes, just because of his physique,” added RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando. “But a fair tackle is a fair tackle.”
So where does that leave Olave? According to Kreis, success will depend on if he can keep his emotions in check. That’s a change for the young defender, who has traditionally played with his heart on his sleeve, sometimes to his own detriment.
“Jamison is a very emotional player,” Kreis said. “He’s gonna need to not react to situations.”
But despite his possible detractions, Olave’s speed and recovery ability make him a huge asset for the team. It’s of particular value with Real Salt Lake, who like to launch outside backs forward to provide wide support for their diamond midfield.
“Having him behind you gives you a lot of confidence,” said defender Robbie Russell.
It helps that Borchers is a solid and reliable defender with a cerebral approach to the game. Together the two form a cohesive duo, and they’ve found a comfortable niche covering for one another as RSL look to defend their MLS title.
“There are going to be times when I need to cover for him, and there are times when he needs to cover for me,” Borchers said.
Although he was a key component in RSL's Championship season, Olave isn’t content with the accomplishments from 2009.
“As a soccer player you are never satisfied,” Olave said. “And you always want more.”