Chris Rolfe’s lengthy run in Chicago ended somewhat unceremoniously on Wednesday when he was dealt to struggling D.C. United, the latest move by head coach Ben Olsen’s club to inject some life into one of the league’s most anemic offenses.
It’s not a huge surprise that Rolfe was shipped out, even though he was in his seventh season with the team since 2005 and was the club’s MVP in 2012. He already had lost his starting spot to Alex, while youngsters Harry Shipp and Benji Joya have already bolstered the team’s depth by playing out wide and could easily slide into more central positions in the future.
Rolfe, 31, has played just one minute in the Fire’s past three games after starting the first game of the season against Chivas USA, and the Fire made clear Wednesday that the allocation money received in the deal is worth more than what Rolfe can give them going forward.
D.C., meanwhile, are probably hoping that Rolfe’s arrival will help fill a void that was created when playmaker Luis Silva went down with an injury last Saturday. DCU were in trouble even before Silva was injured, evidenced by his one chance created in 111 minutes (he created more than two per game in 2013, including set-pieces), and the fact that they have scored just twice in three games this season. So there’s no doubt they need help.
In steps Rolfe, probably better known for scoring goals than for creating them for others. In his first six seasons in MLS (2005-09, 2012) Rolfe averaged a goal about every three games, including a career-high nine goals in 2008. After spending three seasons abroad with Danish side Aalborg beginning in 2010, Rolfe returned to Chicago in 2012 and was as effective as ever, scoring eight goals in just 22 games.
His numbers dipped in 2013 - he managed just four goals in 31 appearances despite taking 11 more shots than in 2012.
Of course, United already have a pair of veteran starting forwards in Eddie Johnson and Fabian Espindola. Silva has been playing in the hole underneath that duo, as a traditional No. 10. Rolfe, for all his playmaking chops, isn’t exactly a regular there, having spent most of his career as either a second forward or a winger. Transitioning to midfield at this stage – if that’s what D.C. intend – is a pretty big ask.
Going by the numbers, though, Rolfe shows promise as a pure playmaker. He was tied for 14th in the league in chances created from the run of play last year, ahead of players like New England’s Kelyn Rowe, Chicago’s Patrick Nyarko and Kansas City’s Graham Zusi. That’s pretty good company.
So is he an upgrade in DC? There’s no way to say for certain with so many variables at play, especially since we have yet to see how Olsen will use Rolfe at this stage in his career. What is certain, however, is that United are a team starving for players who can create chances, since only two players - Espindola (2) and defender Sean Franklin (1.7) – are the only ones making a difference right now.
They are also team who needs people to finish those chances. Rolfe wasn’t able to do that consistently in 2013, but maybe a change of scenery – and of position – is just what he needs to find a second life as a starter.