WASHINGTON – The way D.C. United head coach Ben Olsen talks about Chris Rolfe, you’d think he was describing a bottle of fine wine.
Refined. Classy. Balanced. Smooth.
He’s not wrong. Rolfe has been outstanding this season. His game-winning goal on Wednesday put him on United’s scoresheet for the fifth time in six games and sent United to the top of both the MLS Eastern Conference and Supporters’ Shield standings.
"It’s fun to watch him,” said Olsen as he reflected on Rolfe’s performance after D.C.’s 2-1 comeback win over Orlando City. "He glides around the field pretty effortlessly – when I talk about him, ‘classy’ keeps coming up. Smooth. He’s a lethal finisher, great balance. He’s got a bag of tricks. We’re happy to have him and he’s been very good this year.”
Playing their second match in a three-game week and having started Rolfe in every other fixture of his side’s regular season, Olsen chose to rest Rolfe on Wednesday, starting Luis Silva in his place. Silva, recently returned from a series of hamstring injuries, was serviceable. But United started tentatively and looked a bit out of sync, giving up the opener in the 11th minute and struggling to create chances over the opening 45.
A series of second-half substitutions would greatly change the dynamic of the game. Rookie midfielder Miguel Aguilar entered the match in the 68th minute, bringing what Olsen described as a “youthful feistiness” to the encounter. Former Columbus Crew forward Jairo Arrieta entered a bit later and would eventually provide the match-winning assist.
But it was the insertion of Rolfe – who entered for Silva just after halftime – that would prove to be Olsen’s most effective tactical stroke of the evening.
The veteran attacker was active from the get-go, and found the back of the net in the 79th minute on a goal that displayed plenty of the guile and experience that Olsen so frequently refers to.
As Arrieta flared out towards the endline to deliver a cross, Rolfe held his run perfectly, tucking in behind OCSC defender Tyler Turner before volleying home the winner from eight yards out. An exultant Rolfe sprinted off the pitch with his teammates to celebrate with fans in the near stand.
Olsen wasn’t the only one singing Rolfe’s praises after Wednesday’s match. United captain Bobby Boswell heaped praise on him as well.
“He does that stuff every day in practice,” said Boswell. "I’d say he’s up there – his technique is just some of the best I’ve ever played with on any team. [It wasn’t] surprising to me or anyone else in this locker room.”
Rolfe himself saved his compliments for others in the locker room, taking a typically reserved approach to analyzing his own performance.
“I’m happy to be on the scoresheet, but there’s always a lot more you can do,” he said. “I don’t think I was as clean as I could’ve been tonight. It’s nice I guess just to be in a group where you can find ways to contribute."