2013 has been a tough season for Chris Rolfe, but his performance on Saturday against D.C. United should be encouraging to Fire fans that the Rolfe from last year is still around somewhere. Rolfe timed his runs on D.C.'s defense perfectly, and his touch on both goals was impeccable.
What Rolfe did on Saturday was also what he would have seen from if he watched the last game D.C. played, which was against Colorado on July 7th. The Rapid's DeShorn Brown laid out a blueprint of how to break D.C.'s back line by putting them under a lot of pressure all game. If there were gaps in the defense, he ran through them. If there weren't any gaps, then he ran at the defenders.
DeShorn could not do it all alone, however. Dylan Powers, Colorado's rookie midfielder, was key to setting up DeShorn's shots with beautifully distributed long balls. Powers had 7 key passes in that game according to OPTA stats. & key passes is a incredibly high number and a sign that D.C.'s midfield does not shut other midfields down.
Here are a few highlights from that game between Colorado and D.C.:
There are about one or two more highlights of DeShorn Brown wreaking havoc on D.C.'s defense. Unfortunately for DeShorn, none of those highlights involved a goal.
D.C. goalkeeper, Joe Willis, had a spectacular game against Colorado, but DeShorn also did not do himself any favors. In each of DeShorn's highlights, he is not able to give himself an good angle on goal. Part of this can be blamed on the fact that Colorado was playing Deshorn out left, so it would have been difficult for him to get a better angle coming in from the left. It also be partly blamed on Deshorn being a rookie. A few of those shots might have been goals against college keepers, but it will not work at the professional level.
Now, lets take a look at how a veteran does it. Here is Rolfe's first goal from Saturday:
The gap between D.C.'s defenders is huge. The gap is created thanks to the Mike Magee effect. Chris Korb had ventured far up field, leaving space behind him. When the ball dropped into that space and Magee went after it, centerback Eithan White trailed after him and gets pulled way out of position. This leaves Daniel Woolard and Taylor Kemp in an awkward position. Rolfe lost Woolard by cutting in towards goal on his run while Kemp is frozen because he can not decide to if he should chase after Rolfe or keep a lurking Dilly Duka in check.
Here is the miss Rolfe had about halfway through the first half:
By this point in the game D.C. is already down two goals. With most of their entire team is pushed far up field, the centerbacks have to play a bit more spread apart. It looks like Rolfe begins his run even before Magee has turned with the ball.
The big key on this play is to watch former Fire-man, John Thorrington (#8). His team just turned the ball over. The ball has been played up to Mike Magee who is all alone in space near the center of the field. If Thorrington hustles, he could disrupt Magee's pass to Rolfe, but he does not. In my opinion, Thorrington does not really put in any effort to stop Magee. Luckily , Woolard and White were able to jostle Rolfe just enough to prevent him from getting a clean shot off.
And of course, here is goal number 2:
This is just simply a beautifully timed run by Rolfe. Chris Korb trailed Rolfe away from goal and then followed him back to goal, but he stopped and turned once he got back to where Woolard was. Just as with the missed shot above, no players from DC are pressuring the Fire. Magee dumps it off for Joel Lindpere, who has all the time in the world to chip the ball to Rolfe. Lindpere does not even both to set the ball. He casually lets it roll in front of him and waits for the right moment. And why not? D.C.'s defense is being just as casual.