Chris Rolfe goal celebration
Tony Quinn

The timely arrival of Chris Rolfe

At this point in the 2014 MLS campaign, it’s hard to believe D.C. United finished the first month of the season without a win. It’s also impossible to discuss the team’s success since then without considering Chris Rolfe’s timely arrival.

0-1-2: D.C. United’s record pre-April 2nd.

10-5-4: D.C. United’s record post-April 2nd.

April 2nd: D.C. United acquires Chris Rolfe from the Chicago Fire in exchange for allocation funds.

“We’ve had a lot of great additions to this team, and he would be at or near the top,” assistant coach Amos Magee said. “[Rolfe] has been exceptional.”

Head coach Ben Olsen, general manager Dave Kasper and the staff rebuilt the Black-and-Red in the 2014 offseason, and the pieces needed time to click. They began to do so in earnest as soon as Rolfe joined the team.

“Yeah, it’s relief,” Olsen said after the squad’s first win of 2014 against the New England Revolution on April 5. “It was just important for us to move forward in our play, but also get the win. It feels good. It feels good for a lot of those new guys, and in particular some of those old guys as we got a little bit of a demon off our back, and we can move forward now.”

Rolfe scored the second goal in the 2-0 victory, sealing the deal with a classy one-touch volley on a long-distance cross from Fabián Espíndola.

“He’s one of the best finishers in the League,” Olsen said. “Anybody will tell you that.”

Well, anybody but Chris Rolfe.

Conor (Doyle) did an amazing job holding the ball up who found Fabián, and I knew he saw me, and the ball was perfect. It was extremely easy for me to finish,” Rolfe said. “… To be honest, just finally winning for these guys, who have been working hard, and its’ a good group of guys, for us to win that’s the best feeling.”

Since his debut, the Ohio-native has scored two more goals, both game-winners, and has added five assists – matching the second best season total of his MLS career. His ability to contribute to the attack was expected, even if he hasn’t played his preferred position.  

“Talk about a guy who is selfless,” Magee said. “His best role is probably underneath a forward like Eddie [Johnson], but knows our team is better off with him out wide doing some of the dirty work.”

It is that kind spirit that has defined United in 2014, which is a lethal combination when added to Rolfe’s skill on the ball. He was involved with both goals in D.C.’s 2-1 victory at San Jose on July 11, and he drew the penalty kick that got things started and was consistently dangerous in the attacking half in last weekend’s important 3-1 victory at home over surging Chivas USA.

“His ability to come in and find seams, find little pockets of space to find the ball, turn and go forward is fantastic,” Magee said. “He is a great finisher; he has probably single-handedly earned three penalty kicks for us.”

While statistics are a great measuring stick for a player’s success, an even more important measurement is the opinion of a player’s peers.

“Overall his quality as a person starts to pervade your team,” Magee said. “He’s got a nice sense of humor. Guys really like him because they know he is honest, because they know he works hard, because they know he doesn’t need to be in the lime-light to be happy and successful.”

Aside from his ability to put the ball in the back of the net, many of these attributes were unbeknownst to the members of the Black-and-Red. One player, however, was sure this signing would pay off.

“Once Benny told us we were going to try to get him, but it wasn’t for sure, I was like, ‘Hell yeah, get this guy,’” Eddie Johnson said. “This is the type of player we need.”

“He’s been a revelation,” Magee said. “Even though we all knew what a good player he was coming in, I think he has exceeded our expectations.”