One point closer to playoffs, DC United happy to pick up road draw under difficult circumstances

No Rolfe? No EJ? No problem.

D.C. United played the Vancouver Whitecaps to a scoreless draw at BC Place on Saturday night, and they did so without the services of crafty midfielder Chris Rolfe and Designated Player Eddie Johnson. Rolfe missed the match after fracturing his left arm earlier in the week –he’ll miss six weeks while recovering from surgery. 

Johnson was a late scratch, forced to sit out after team doctors determined he was suffering the effects of a concussion picked up during training earlier in the week. 

Given the circumstances, the draw was likely a desirable result for United, who fared much better on this West Coast jaunt than their last – a 4-1 drubbing at the hands of the Los Angeles Galaxy a week and a half ago. The win leaves United with 47 points, a full five ahead of second-place Sporting Kansas City and a whopping 14 points clear of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

"We’re happy with the point,” United head coach Ben Olsen told reporters after the match. "Considering the conditions and traveling from east to west, it’s never easy. Overall, again, a zero on the road is always a good thing, you give yourself a chance."

Rolfe’s role on the left wing was filled by former Seattle Sounder David Estrada, who got his second start since his acquisition in early August. Estrada put in an industrious 70-minute shift, weathering a few rough patches early on before finding his place in the attack. 

"It’s good,” said outside back Sean Franklin. "It’s always good to get a point on the road. It was a tough game, they had some chances and we did too. But at the end of the day, we came out with a shutout and a point, and that’s big for where we stand in the Eastern Conference."

Even if healthy, Johnson’s place in the starting XI wouldn’t have exactly been guaranteed. The big striker has found himself sharing minutes with Luis Silva and Fabian Espindola, both of whom have shown exceedingly well in recent weeks.

There was some thought that Johnson may actually fill in for Rolfe, playing the wide midfield role that US national team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has deployed him at on occasion, but any possibility of seeing the goal scorer was wiped out prior to the match.

Much of the chatter in United’s locker room after the game centered around D.C.’s upcoming tilt on Wednesday evening with the New York Red Bulls, a team who United beat 2-0 less than a week ago. And looking farther ahead, United are just a few victories away from sewing up a playoff spot, a remarkable feat for a club that only a year ago finished last in the league. 

"Every game [from here on out] is important," said Franklin. "Every game is a playoff game to us. Everyone is trying to catch us, and first place is what we want to get. Ultimately we want to finish in first place and hopefully win the Supporters’ Shield. 

"Our team knows we’re about a game or two away from being in the playoffs, and that’s one thing that’s our biggest goal right now is the playoffs."