Chris Rolfe participated in full training with the Fire this morning without his customary #17 which is currently worn by Pavel Pardo. After embarking on a 9 hour direct flight from Copenhagen to Chicago on Monday, Rolfe took some time to unwind yesterday and arrived at training today sporting the newly assigned #18. "It's good to see some familiar faces but just driving in and seeing the stadium I got butterflies. It's a good feeling," said Rolfe after the Wednesday morning training session.
Only four players remain (Pause, Pappa, Nyarko, Segares) from the squad Rolfe left in 2009. Although he hasn't watched much MLS action this season he sees no problem fitting in with the 2012 version of the club. "It's my first training and I didn't get to see many games prior but I think it's going to be a good fit. The guys in the middle are good players and Pavel Pardo is the man. They play the ball on the ground and Frank is doing a great job dictating the way we're going to play and I'm a big fan of that," he said.
2009 Departure and 2012 Return
The Ohio native said the initial decision to leave MLS for Denmark in 2009 wasn't based on one single thing but rather a variety of circumstances including a desire to test himself overseas. "There were so many variables in that situation. But it was something I wanted to try when I was younger. If I had the opportunity I wanted to try just to see if I was capable of playing at that level. At the age that I was, I thought it would be a great experience as a person," said Rolfe.
Although there were trying moments, which included a coaching change and a tendinitis issue located in his upper hamstring which kept him out of action for nearly 11 months he feels that the experience in Denmark was something he would gladly try again if given the option. "Overall it was good for me on and off the field. I was there by myself and it really helped me to develop as a person and a player," he said.
"I learned some things. The coach that brought me there was great and we had a change in coaches while I was injured so I got a taste of two completely different styles. You have a lot of time to think over there since you're by yourself. I reflected on a lot of things regarding the future, the past, my passion."
"I don't regret that move at all but it was a very difficult time for me with my injury and then the new coach that I was dealing with. But I still wouldn't change a thing. I think it bettered me as a person and gave me a different perspective on the field and off the field. Coming back to a city like this I'm really going to enjoy it and take advantage of the opportunity that I have," said Rolfe.
When an opportunity arose to return to MLS and Chicago, he also felt it was time to make the move back stateside. After some reflection and consultation with his agent and family the wheels started in motion last week. "There were a number of reasons but I'm 29 now and I was over there by myself. In terms of enjoying life and taking advantage of my time on the field we thought this would be the best opportunity."
"There were some teams that were interested in me over there and my current team, Aalborg was trying to re-sign me. I talked with my agent and my family and thought this would be the best decision. If we could make this happen and get back to Chicago it would be the best thing for me," said Rolfe.
"We reached out to them (Fire organization) and if they didn't have interest we would have (looked at other MLS options) since there were some other teams that had been contacting my agent throughout the last two years," said Rolfe. After reaching out and receiving a confirmation of mutual interest from the Fire the negotiations progressed quickly although the discussions were a bit complicated.
"It was a matter of days. It's a difficult situation when you're negotiating with two teams at the same time. My team at Aalborg was trying to re-sign me so it's not like they really wanted me to leave. It's really great that both of those teams were willing to work together to allow me to go where I wanted to go. It happened in about four or five days, Sunday morning I signed the official papers and took off Monday."
Back in Chicago
Rolfe was caught a bit off guard to find a group of Fire supporters waiting to greet him at O'Hare Airport upon his arrival on Monday afternoon.
"It was a great surprise because when I got on the plane the news hadn't been released yet and I think we were trying to wait until Tuesday to do it so I didn't expect anyone to be there. It was great to see some of the Section 8 guys there. Coming in from any sort of trip it's good to see people there and for me coming from another country and being gone for so long it was good to see someone there," he said with a grin.
Ready to go
Fire supporters will be glad to hear that Rolfe has arrived near the end of the Danish season and feels in form, healthy, and ready to help although he may need some time to adjust to the pace of play in MLS. "Denmark is a little more tactical in a way, it's a little bit slower. I think the MLS game is very athletic and very fast paced, at times maybe to a fault. The Danish league was a little bit more organized in a way and some teams played more direct but there were a lot of teams that played a little more conservative," he said when asked to compare the two leagues. Rolfe feels he's fit but may need to work on his endurance due to the pace of play in the US.
Where and when does he play?
Frank Klopas was pretty emphatic in stating that he feels Rolfe is best suited at forward while still maintaining that he can help the club in various spots. "On top. He's a forward. That's where he's going to play. He's a quality player and he makes the team better," said Klopas.
The coach will have another option to call upon while trying to find the best possible eleven for any given match. A good problem to have. "There are different characteristics and mixtures of players that you can mold together. Depending on the needs and who you're playing we have different options," said Klopas. "You can play different. He's played out wide when Denis was here and he played left and right midfield in Denmark. He's played on top, he can play as a second forward, he can play behind the two strikers, he can play out wide. I think he's got the flexibility of a player you can play in different spots but for sure around the goal, you put him there. He's very good around the goal and when he gets chances close to goal he's a guy that's proven in the past that the chances he gets he can finish. He's very composed. He's got very good feet. Shoots well with both feet. It's good for us because he can play different positions."
Whether or not Rolfe is an automatic starter he wasn't quite willing to say but the coach seemed bullish on his chances. "We'll evaluate every day. It's what you do in training and in the games. We brought him in because he can help our team. His attitude is fantastic and he wants to help this team," he offered.
Looking ahead to the match in Toronto this weekend, Klopas is cautiously optimistic. Toronto is winless and pointless so far but that doesn't mean the Fire can walk in and automatically expect three points. "In this league there are no easy games. It's going to be a difficult match. We have to come out with the right attitude, play our game and stick to our game plan. It's a good opportunity to come up with a result there," he said.
Rolfe may not start, but by the sound of things he'll surely be in the eighteen come Saturday afternoon.