Chris Rolfe’s quest as a professional soccer player led him to Europe — now he’s back.
Rolfe will make his home return for the Chicago Fire of Major League Soccer today. The Fire will play the New York Red Bulls at 5 p.m. The game is being carried on the NBC Sports Network.
Rolfe, who played at Fairmont High School and the University of Dayton, is returning after a two-year stint in the Danish Superliga in Denmark to the club that drafted him out of college.
“When I went to Denmark, I had goals of succeeding in that league and moving onto a higher league,” Rolfe said. “I had some injury setbacks. When I was healthy I was doing well, but I didn’t do well enough to achieve the goals I wanted. We started renegotiating to keep me there longer, and we decided to reach out to MLS and something happened with Chicago.”
Rolfe, 29, suffered from hamstring tendonitis in Denmark, an injury that kept him from playing for 11 months.
He was expected to return to Chicago in April but was injured again — a grade-two sprained ankle with a bone bruise — during his second training session. He played his only game for Chicago this year on June 2, coming off the bench as a substitution. He is hoping to make his first start of the year today.
Rolfe has battled injuries his entire career, even at Dayton, where he became the school’s all-time assist leader despite a groin injury that sidelined him for the majority of his last two seasons with the Flyers.
The injuries didn’t stop MLS from being interested. Chicago drafted him in the third round of the league’s draft in 2005. He played with the Fire from 2005 to 2009 — he led them in scoring in both 2005 and 2008 — and has 36 career goals with the team. He also made 10 appearances with the United States men’s national team during that span.
Despite his success, Rolfe said he wanted to open himself to new challenges. He signed with Aalborg and began playing in Danish Superliga in early 2010.
“It was a really good experience,” Rolfe said. “It opened my eyes to a new style of soccer and to different opinions about the game.”
Rolfe said he wanted to experience a new culture. Denmark’s society is more socialist. It also has a different pace than life in the United States and he had to make adjustments.
“You got a different perspective on life in general,” Rolfe said. “It’s much more laid back than Chicago. They have so many days off for holidays. The stores don’t open until 2 p.m. on Saturday if they open at all, and everything is closed on Sunday. The way they live is different. They stress family and enjoying life more than working all day long to make a living and to get ahead.”
Playing in Denmark had a positive influence on Rolfe, who as a player became more mature. He learned how to deal with competition at the international level and continued his learning curve as a professional.
“I had to deal with a lot of adversity and deal with it in a professional manner,” Rolfe said. “I grew a lot through that experience.”
The experience meant much to Rolfe, but he also missed home. When the opportunity opened for him to return to the Fire, it was a move he felt he needed to make.
“It’s great to be back to a familiar place,” Rolfe said. “Especially after being away from everything familiar for two-and-a-half years in Denmark. I’ve had success here and I’ve had good times here. That helps a lot.”
While playing soccer all over the world, Rolfe often reflects on his time with Fairmont. He recently met with some of his former Fairmont teammates during a trip to Columbus.
“Some of my best memories of playing soccer were on that high school field back at Fairmont,” Rolfe said. “I have a lot of good connections from there. It was a good experience for all of us.”
An experience Rolfe said has helped him throughout his professional career; whether it’s battling injuries, learning a new culture or battling preconceived notions over his 5-foot-8, 150-pound frame.
“I’ve always tried to prove myself at different levels,” Rolfe said. “My size puts me behind the 8-ball as well. It’s nothing new. It helps me because I have had to fight through a lot of adversity and it follows me to this day.”
Contact this reporter at (937) 225-2455 or bjbethel@ DaytonDailyNews.com.