D.C. United Midfielder Chris Rolfe is saying aloud what everyone else around Major League Soccer already knows:
"There are some teams in this league that have more money."
The Black-and-Red aren’t a big-budget club - not by a long shot. According to figures released by the MLS Players Union, D.C. ranks 16th out of the 20 MLS teams in spending this year.
But with only nine games left in their season, United sit atop the Supporters’ Shield race AND enjoy a comfortable lead in the Eastern Conference standings.
"Our General Manager [Dave Kasper] and coaching staff have done a great job brining in guys that are somewhat affordable and guys that are good in this league," said United's Chris Rolfe, who was acquired for allocation money in a trade last April. "You can see our team can kind of grind out results like we did in Montreal because we have experience in MLS."
It’s easy to paint D.C. as the have-nots of Major League Soccer. The team still plays at RFK Stadium, has no marquee superstars and - depending on your perspective and tastes - can at times be accused of ‘winning ugly’.
The same cannot be said for United’s next opponent.
If expansion side New York City F.C. aren’t the ‘haves' of MLS - the league has none. The New York Yankee/Manchester City-backed project is as well-funded as they come.
Consider this, D.C. United’s total salary for 2015 - for all 27 rostered players - comes out to approximately $4.34 million. NYCFC spent just under $14 million on David Villa, Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo alone.
"It's great for the league that we get these guys, but it's no secret we're not the [team] going out to get them," D.C. defender Taylor Kemp acknowledged. "I think we take a lot of pride saying we can win without them. It's fun to kind of play that role."
While United are proving you can indeed win without superstars, New York City are finding that box office draw doesn't equal on-field success. The first-year squad sit eighth in the Eastern Conference - a full twenty points back of the Black-and-Red.
"A team like [NYCFC], they go in and spend a lot of money on a couple guys that aren’t quite where they were a few years ago - athletically in particular - and that’s going to hurt them," added Rolfe.
"We're happy with the team we've got," said second-year center back Steve Birnbaum. "We love to play with the guys on our team. We're a blue-collar team and we've got a lot of experience and it shows with our results."
D.C. United and NYCFC play Thursday night at Yankee Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for shortly after 7:00 P.M.