WASHINGTON – D.C. United are on a roll.
United’s 3-0 dismantling of Toronto FC on Wednesday was D.C.’s fourth consecutive victory, leaving them with a double-digit lead over third place TFC and just a point shy of Sporting Kansas City. A remarkable turnaround for a team only months removed from arguably the worst season in MLS history.
D.C.’s rebuild has been thoroughly analyzed from every angle. Put simply, United are getting solid play at nearly every position. Bobby Boswell and Sean Franklin have anchored a reshaped backline, while two other offseason acquisitions, Fabian Espindola – and more recently Eddie Johnson – have sparked the attack.
Lost in that stable of MLS stalwarts is perhaps a more underrated addition, the early-season signing of midfielder Chris Rolfe. Rolfe has been exceptional for D.C., especially during the absence of Espindola, out since mid-june with a knee injury.
On Wednesday, Rolfe's second-half goal gave United a bit of breathing room, doubling their lead and deflating TFC’s hopes for a comeback.
"He’s just a guy that can change the game for us,” United head coach Ben Olsen told MLSsoccer.com after the match. "We’ve asked him to do more work than he’s used to in midfield – the amount of miles he’s putting on while still giving us a threat in the box – he’s just what we need.”
Rolfe’s has indeed logged plenty of miles in the past few games, and his performance against TFC was no different: The former Chicago Fire midfielder was active throughout both halves, combining well with fellow mid Nick DeLeon and providing Johnson with a steady stream of service.
It was a bit of veteran awareness, though, that would get Rolfe on the scoresheet. After DeLeon cut sharply in the box, TFC defender Warren Creavalle brought him down for a clear penalty. The referee, however, chose to play the advantage, and Rolfe stayed with the play, running onto the ball and burying it from 15 yards out.
"I don’t even remember how that sequence started,” Rolfe said, chuckling. "I think the ref did a great job not calling the PK. It was obviously a penalty, I think the ref did great in the second half.”
Many observers of United this year haven’t necessarily been surprised at the fact that D.C. are contending – but almost all of them are surprised at how quickly the team has come together. And they’re not the only ones: Rolfe himself has been impressed with D.C.’s chemistry.
"There have been teams that I’ve been on that throughout the whole season you don’t ever jell,” said Rolfe. "Our guys – we continue to put new guys in and take guys out – and everyone continues to do a great job. Our combination play has been fantastic.”
United's rotating cast will likely change again when Espindola returns from injury in the next week or two. Rolfe, who on Wednesday said he feels great given the miles he's logged and volume of games he's played throughout 2014, will likely continue to play a key role.
“Chris has changed this team,” concluded Olsen. “He’s changed the way we can play. He’s just a classy player, and we’re lucky to have him."