Chicago creates operating room by dealing Chris Rolfe to D.C. United

Chicago's decision to part ways with Chris Rolfe could allow head coach and director of soccer Frank Yallop to address some concerns in the attacking third.

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Chicago head coach and director of soccer Frank Yallop repeatedly highlighted the need to create room within the salary budget prior to the March 1 roster compliance deadline. The decision to send Austin Berry to Philadelphia reflected both Berry’s place in the central defensive pecking order and Yallop’s need to carve out more operating latitude for the upcoming campaign.

Yallop’s decision to ship Fire veteran Chris Rolfe to D.C. United in exchanged for an undisclosed amount of allocation money on Wednesday falls into the same category. Rolfe fell down the depth chart given the emergence of Quincy Amarikwa up front, Alex in central midfield and Benji Joya and Harrison Shipp on either flank and took up a considerable chunk of the Fire’s salary budget in the process.

Rolfe reworked his contract prior to the second stage of the re-entry process in December to remain with the Fire, but his overall hit – Washington Post scribe Steven Goff reported the veteran forward will make in the region of his 2013 base salary of $225,000, per MLS players union documents, this season – still left him vulnerable given his place within the squad.

“The allocation money that we received in this trade will give us more flexibility and freedom moving forward,” Yallop said in a press release. “It’s always difficult to part ways with someone who has been part of the club for multiple years, but with our existing depth, we felt that this was the right move to make. We thank Chris for his service and wish him all the best in D.C.”

MVP ENCORE

The trade offers Rolfe a chance to recover from a down 2013 (31 matches, four goals, one assist) and secure regular playing time for a side in need of his particular set of services. Rolfe functions best as a second forward or a conduit on the break, though he can also feature in the wide areas as well. Luis Silva’s recent ankle injury and Chris Pontius’ persistent injury issues left United with a hole to fill in that particular department.

Rolfe’s direct style of running and his threat to score from distance complements Fabian Espindola’s inherent drifting toward the left and selfless work rate and Eddie Johnson’s hold-up play and willingness to dash behind the line. He also provides some cover up front for Johnson’s essentially guaranteed inclusion in the U.S. training camp for the World Cup next month and the subsequent trip to Brazil.

As United plots to deploy Rolfe and return him to his slashing best, the Fire will ponder the best way to use the space created. Chicago is expected to retain a portion of Rolfe’s salary on its books, according to the Washington Post, but the acquisition of the allocation money plus the removal of most of Rolfe’s wages does create some flexibility within the budget.

Most of the additional capital will likely find its way into the attacking third. Influential forward Mike Magee is still in line for an improved contract (a mandatory upgrade for any MLS MVP at this stage, according to recent precedent), while the need for a center forward remains acute even with Amarikwa’s early productivity and Juan Luis Anangonó’s continued and generally underwhelming presence.

Both improvements require the sort of funds generated by cutting ties with expensive players. Yallop could accelerate the process further by dispatching high-priced and overtly available reserves Dilly Duka ($157,000 base salary in 2013) and Patrick Nyarko ($230,000 base salary in 2013), though some depth remains necessary and wingers play a critical role in the Fire’s counterattacking deportment. For now, the Fire will move onwards with more operating room to address lingering concerns and alter the squad further as time progresses.