WASHINGTON – Forced to go without the services of Designated Player and forward Eddie Johnson – who sat the match out serving a suspension handed down by the MLS Disciplinary committee earlier in the week – D.C. United tried something new on Wednesday evening, moving Chris Rolfe up top and pairing him with Johnson’s strike partner, Fabian Espindola.
It was hardly a sacrifice. Rolfe is an old hand at forward, and the shift paid dividends for United: Each of the two players finished the night with a goal and an assist in a 2-0 win over the Houston Dynamo at RFK Stadium.
“I felt good,” Rolfe told MLSsoccer.com after the match. "I obviously haven’t played there in a long time and I enjoy playing there. I was excited to play tonight; I think that kind of helped with me and Fabian’s chemistry.”
"I was happy that I got a chance to play a little higher,” added Espindola. "I think in a way Eddie and I are similar like that, we like to play a bit higher. Rolfe is a very technical player, highly skilled, so I think we worked well together."
Espindola has been the engine of United’s offense this season, in constant motion, always looking to carve out a bit of space and rarely afraid to run at opponents. On Wednesday evening, Rolfe told reporters that his strike partner reminded him of a former teammate, another player who many consider to have that same drive and passion.
“I played with [Cuauhtemoc] Blanco for a number of years in Chicago and he was very similar [to Espindola]," said Rolfe. "He liked to drift and roam, he was a very technical player, great vision, just like Fabi. I think through those years that’s helping me now play off of Fabi a little bit and make that work tonight.”
United head coach Ben Olsen wasn’t too quick to take credit for the decision to play Rolfe up top. To him, it was one that made itself.
"It’s actually his normal position,” Olsen said. "This certainly isn’t a genius move by the coach. That’s where he’s played and he knows what to do up there obviously. But again, him and Fabi worked pretty well together.
"Rolfe has a great ability to fill in the holes and play with guys with different attributes, whether it’s an Eddie or a Fabi. He knows what the game needs and where to go – he’s been a big pickup.”
Johnson will return to action for United’s weekend matchup with New England, and will undoubtedly step back into the starting spot at forward. D.C., however, can take comfort in knowing that Rolfe will still be on the field, playing on the wing as he’s done rather effectively all year.