D.C. United head coach Ben Olsen hoping to see Chris Rolfe return in time for MLS Cup Playoffs

WASHINGTON - Life has been difficult for DC United midfielder Chris Rolfe, who’s spent the past several weeks recovering from a broken left arm. Surgeons went in in early September to install hardware to stabilize the fracture, and what’s followed has been a particularly painful period of rehabilitation.

The injury, however, has done little to dampen Rolfe’s spirits or the mood of a high-flying United group as a whole.

Case and point: during Friday morning’s media availability, D.C. captain Bobby Boswell strolled into the downstairs media room at RFK wearing a t-shirt a few sizes too small and a particularly intimidating metal arm brace, one that’s been worn by Rolfe in recent weeks.

“I’m seeing what it’s like to be ‘Rolfie' for a day,” Boswell joked. “I’m hoping I pick up his first touch in this thing; he’s got a good first touch. Unfortunately, this brace is too small for my guns.”

Rolfe chuckled when shown a photo of Boswell sporting his hardware. “Who wears it better?” He asked.

Five weeks into a projected six-week recovery period, Rolfe is finally integrating himself back into training sessions. “This week I’ve been cleared to do anything on my own - I can’t do anything with other players or anything with any possession, nothing like that,” Rolfe told MLSsoccer.com on Friday.

"No Bobby clamoring into me."

"My hope is that he’ll be ready for whether it’s the last game [of the regular season], or the playoffs - we don’t know,” added United head coach Ben Olsen. "This is a day-by-day thing, we’re waiting for the doctors to clear him. Again, from a bone healing standpoint, we’ll push it and see what he can do. His mind frame I think is one of he wants to help the team. If he can, with the arm and everything, he’ll do what he can. But he’s a team guy. If it’s not gonna happen, if he doesn’t feel like he can get on the field, then he won’t.”

Rolfe had become an integral piece in United’s re-shaped midfield before his injury, which he picked up during a training session on Sept. 2. The former Chicago Fire man seemed to fall into place almost immediately, compensating for the absence of an injured Chris Pontius and notching six goals and six assists in the process.

DC have certainly survived without him – going 3-1-3 across all competitions – and Olsen has deployed a mix of players in his absence. Pontius has also since returned to near full health, but there’s no denying that United are a better team in general with Rolfe on the pitch.

The timing of the injury, in particular, stings. Though Rolfe sees the light at the end of the tunnel – and has largely stayed positive – it still hasn’t been easy to watch DC's continued rise to the top of the Eastern Conference from a seat on RFK’s mezzanine.

"I’ve been through this a number of times before, but it never gets easy,” Rolfe said on Friday. "I was having so much fun with this group and just really enjoyed playing with them this year and to now sit out at the final part where it really becomes fun and it’s what you really work for. To just sit back and watch it, sucks. It’s awesome to feel like I was a part of getting the team to this point, but obviously selfishly I wish I was involved going forward."

He may get his wish soon. Rolfe will resume a more regular training regiment next week – joining his teammates in live drills that feature a bit more contact – with his eye on returning before United’s season draws to a close. How quickly that will happen remains to be seen.

“[The injury is] progressing better than expected,” Rolfe said. "Have I fallen on it? No. Have I been hit by anybody? No. Have I actually played a game in it? No. We still have a lot of big hurdles to kind of get over, so we’ll know more probably next week when that restriction is lifted.”

“If he comes back,” Olsen concluded, “he’ll be a great addition to this group."

Pablo Maurer covers DC United for MLSsoccer.com