Sandy • Jamison Olave is back with a force.
The proof was in the soccer ball Real Salt Lake captain Kyle Beckerman carried off America First Field on Tuesday, popped and deflated after Olave, who missed three games with a calf injury, fell on it during a training challenge.
Nat Borchers, when told his partner in the center backfield burst a soccer ball, joked, “What, just by looking at it?”
A look at Olave, and it’s easy to understand what Borchers means. Coach Jason Kreis, who said he’s never seen a soccer ball popped, put it more simply: “He strikes the fear of God in some opposing players.”
At 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, Olave is one of the league’s most intimidating and athletic defenders. And, after the last three weeks, a case could be made that he is RSL’s most important player.
Things have largely returned to normal for RSL (11-6-3, 36 points), which trails San Jose by one point in the Western Conference standings going into Saturday’s road game against the Earthquakes.
Olave missed three games starting June 23 against San Jose. RSL went 0-2-1 and was outscored 4-1. During the stretch, the focus fell on the center backs, where Chris Wingert, generally an outside back, was often outmatched.
Olave said he struggled with the fact the area he usually manned became a problem spot in his absence.
“You can do nothing, you know?” the 31-year-old Colombia native said. “Just sit out, injured. Just hear, hear, hear everybody talking, talking, and you wish you could go back to the field and play and win again.”
On Saturday, he did. Olave started against the Portland Timbers, and RSL won 3-0. He is the only RSL player to appear in each of the team’s 11 wins.
“It’s always your best bet to have the best center back in the league in your back line, for sure,” Borchers said. “Jamison’s just a beast back there. So solid. We have a very good working relationship, so it’s definitely great to have him back in the lineup.”
Borchers and Olave are generally considered the league’s best center back tandem and were both named in 2010 to the MLS Best XI, essentially the league’s all-pro team. Since 2008 they have appeared in 101 games side-by-side and RSL is 48-25-28.
As quickly as they were reunited, however, the duo may be separated Saturday at San Jose as Borchers is questionable with a sore quad that forced him to miss training this week.
But Olave is an impact player, even without Borchers. It starts with his physicality.
“It’s really hard to explain,” Beckerman said. “He runs as fast as he has to. I’ve never seen anybody outrun him. But I don’t think he’s run as hard as he can, ever.”
Like Borchers, Olave joined RSL in 2008, and it’s notable how he has refined his game since then.
In the early days, Borchers said, Olave may have relied too much on his athleticism and the result was a reputation for being careless on challenges.
“When he first came in the league where he was so big and so dominant that referees and players didn’t really know what to do when he challenged for balls,” Borchers said.
But that athleticism is, on the whole, the key to Olave’s success. It allows him to cheat away from strikers because he can recover so quickly.
“I think his athleticism allows us to play a little bit more of an aggressive style,” Kreis said.
But not too aggressive. Otherwise, San Jose may need to keep a few extra balls on hand.
RSL at San Jose
P Saturday, 8:30 p.m.
TV • Ch. 4
About Jamison Olave
Age • 31
Position • Defender
Hometown • Medellin, Colombia
Career • 5th MLS season; 137 starts with RSL
This season • 16 starts; missed three games from June 23 to July 7.