WASHINGTON – For a while on Wednesday evening, it seemed as if Chris Rolfe might never score a goal.
He was doing everything but that – throughout most of D.C. United’s Knockout Round encounter against the New England Revolution, his movement had been fluid. He'd combined exceedingly well with Fabian Espindola up top and with Chris Pontius and Nick DeLeon out wide. Just four minutes in, Rolfe had carved out a golden opportunity, zipping around a defender and streaking in on goal unmarked. His attempt at goal, however, was lacking.
Rolfe got another look in the 22nd minute from nearly the same spot, but Revs goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth did well with his effort; five minutes later, the former Fire man used a nifty bit of footwork in an exchange with Espindola, leading to an opportunity from 10 yards out. Rolfe’s strike eluded Shuttleworth, but not the crossbar.
But Rolfe’s cruelest miss of the night came from the penalty spot, in the 75th minute. He’d been perfect from 12 yards since joining United, and struck this attempt with gusto. It was ever so close, but caromed off the inside of the post and trickled away from danger.
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In the meantime, the game had continued around him. The Revolution had seized control of the match on an audacious Juan Agudelo bicycle kick a quarter of an hour in. D.C. had wrestled it back moments from the halftime whistle on a Pontius strike. Both teams had had their fair share of opportunities and even after his misses, Rolfe remained confident.
"I was actually pretty calm,” Rolfe said. “I kept believing that I was going to get another chance and I was going to score. There was a split second there, maybe a minute or two after the PK where its running through my head and I’m like 'wow, it’s just one of those days, you know, I don’t know what’s going to happen. I haven’t played 90 minutes in a long time, I don’t know if they’re gonna take me out.’ So I just cleared my head and tried to stay optimistic and kept making runs.”
"I think just based on how he was playing early on,” added D.C. captain Bobby Boswell, "you knew he was going to get a goal, [it was] just a matter of how and when.”
From the run of play, 83 minutes in. DeLeon collected the ball in the box and played Espindola towards the endline. The Revs were caught ball-watching; Espindola swung it into the box, Rolfe sliced towards the top of the six, smashing it home with his left foot. Just like that, the PK miss meant nothing.
"Fantastic by Fabi,” Rolfe said. "I don’t know how he saw me. I think there were like what, four defenders in the box and then me, it’s unbelievable … It’s huge. I wasn’t disappointed in how I played; I thought I played pretty well and created good chances, I was just a little off in all my finishing. Obviously then to get that late goal was huge for me and obviously for the team."
“I’m so happy for Chris,” said United head coach Ben Olsen. “He’s been our best player this year and, to miss that and not redeem yourself – I know that would be painful for him. He put his head down and kept working and I’m happy he found the winner."
Rolfe suggested that he’d have shouldered much of the blame if he hadn’t managed to covert his late chance. After the victory, Boswell suggested that Rolfe might be among a group of United’s veteran core who places particular value on these playoff games, perhaps wondering if they’ll be some of their last.
"He’s hungry. I think,” Boswell told MLSsoccer.com “He senses we’re coming to the end – some of us – to our careers and you never know when you’re gonna get an opportunity like this. He’s one guy that’s really trying to take advantage of it. You've got to have things go your way and you have to really show up. You've got to have a combination of that, you know? We had some calls go our way; he misses a PK, but then he turns right around and scores."
For his part, Rolfe doesn’t necessarily think of things that way.
"Not at all,” he said. "My second year, my first year, I didn’t know if I was going to make the playoffs again. I didn’t know if I was going to continue my career. You know? So I’ve had a lot of chances to play in playoff games, and when I was younger, I was playing for the older guys who might have been there last game. I may have been even working harder for them than for myself, thinking it would be their last game."
"Maybe I’m working for Bobby."