Still battling the effects of jet lag, Chris Rolfe returned to the Toyota Park practice field Wednesday and was excited to be there.
"Only four players are left from the (Fire) team that I last played on," said Rolfe, "but it was still good to see some familiar faces. Just driving into the stadium I got some butterflies, and that was a good feeling."
Rolfe was one of the Fires most popular players from 2005-08, when he scored 40 goals and added 20 assists in 149 matches across all competitions. He was the clubs Golden Boot winner in both 2005 and 2008 before switching to Aalborg BK of the Danish SuperLiga, where he spent the last three seasons.
The stay in Denmark wasnt all bad, but a coaching change with that club coupled with a touch of loneliness spurred Rolfe to get back to the club that drafted him in the third round of the Major League Soccer SuperDraft straight out of the University of Dayton.
"I was there by myself, said Rolfe of the Denmark experience," and you have a lot of time to think over there when youre alone. I reflected on a lot of things regarding the future, the past, my passion. I talked to my agent and my family, and we thought the best decision -- if we could make it happen -- was to get back to Chicago."
This wasnt a case of a spurned player looking for a way out of a bad situation.
"Some teams were interested in me over there, and my club, Aalborg was trying to sign me, said Rolfe. "Overall, going there was good for me on and off the field. It helped me develop as a person and as a player. I had a difficult time there with my injury, but still I wouldnt have changed a thing."
Rolfe developed tendinitis in his hamstring in his first season in Denmark. It bothered him for 11 months, and while he was struggling with his health the club changed coaches.
"I learned some things, said Rolfe. "The one who brought me there was great."
The coach who took over was different. Rolfe started in Denmark playing up top. After the coaching change he was moved to the right side. "Good for a learning experience" was how Rolfe summed up the whole Denmark scenario.
He was a star in Major League Soccer when he left the Fire for the European lifetstyle.
"There were so many variables," he said. "When I was younger I wanted to see if I was capable of playing at that level."
He pretty much was, though six goals in 32 matches over three seasons isnt outstanding. Playing in Europe led to Rolfe getting more callups to the U.S. national team, though the first of his 11 caps came when he was still a member of the Fire.
Aalborgs stadium seated about 12,000 and was sold out for about half of the matches, so Rolfe figures to play before bigger crowds in Bridgeview than he did in Europe. The style of soccer will change, too.
"With Aalborg it was more tactical, slower, said Rolfe. "In Major League Soccer its more athletic and fast-paced -- sometimes to a fault. In Denmark its more organized, in a way."
Fire coach Frank Klopas, who played in Greece early in his career, knows all about that. He thinks Rolfes experience there will help the Fire now.
"I know he can help our team," said Klopas. "Were thrilled to have him, and his attitude is fantastic.
Rolfe will be available for selection in Saturdays road match against FC Toronto, but Klopas was non-committal about whether Rolfe would play or even where he might be on the field as the season progresses. It seems likely hell be paired up top with Dominic Oduro, with Patrick Nyarko playing on the right side again. For now, though, Rolfe has to improve his fitness.
"Its pretty good, and I still have my quick feet," he said, "but I got tired during training."
Klopas, though, liked what he saw in Rolfes first day back. "Hes looked good -- very clean feet, very composed around the goal, very quick," said Klopas.
By Saturday the jet lag should be gone. After four-five days of negotiations between MLS and Aalborg were concluded Rolfe boarded a direct flight from Copenhagen to Chicago. The nine-hour flight arrived on Monday night, and Rolfe was greeted at OHare by several members of Section 8 supporters.
"That was a great surprise because the news (of his return to the Fire) hadnt been released when I got to the airport," said Rolfe."Ive got goals left from my first stint here. I think this will be a good fit."