Postcard from Europe: Rolfe looking to make his mark
AMSTERDAM — After suffering through an injury-interrupted season in which Aalborg BK survived an unexpected relegation scrape, a fully fit Chris Rolfe has wasted little time announcing his intentions for the new campaign.
Just ask AGF Aarhus. This past weekend in Aalborg, in the second game of the Danish SAS Liga season, Rolfe settled a high lob pass with his chest just past the hour mark and just about 25 yards from pay dirt. Without the slightest hesitation, he buried a cannon shot to the top corner and it stood as winner in a 2-1 tussle.
Despite appearing in only 14 league games over his first season-and-a-half at AaB, Rolfe has gained a rep for big play capability. With a big chuckle, the affable 28-year-old owes his talent for spectacle up to what could sound literally like playing dumb.
"That's actually when I score my best goals — when I'm not thinking," Rolfe told MLSsoccer.com by phone this week.
Even if shutting off his brain during game time is the path to golazos, Rolfe and the rest of his teammates have been doing a lot of soul-searching over the offseason. Danish champs just four years ago, Aalborg spent much of last season in the cellar. After surging toward midtable near the end, they slumped again and avoided the drop by a single point.
"We went through a real tough spell," said Rolfe. "We weren't getting any of the breaks at all. But we know, with the players we have, we're a good team."
It's safe to say the AaB locker room is eager to show last season's struggle was a fluke, and the astute right midfielder knows last year's pain can be this year's gain.
"We have a lot of talented young players that were playing in their first real season," noted Rolfe. “Those guys will come back with a little more experience and more confidence."
Aalborg also have several veterans of the 2007 league-winning team around to make sure that all lessons are learned, including Rolfe's attack cohorts Thomas Augustinussen, Jeppe Curth and Rasmus Würtz.
"I guess it's a little weird to have guys around that won the title in the last three or four years, and then also have been in a relegation battle in that time," the former Chicago Fire man quipped. "We definitely have some experience in the locker room."
Rolfe seems quite confident, comfortable and content in his current station, and he says much of the credit goes to Danish daily life.
"Culturally, it's easier for Americans because everyone speaks English," he said, ticking a very important check box. "The culture is also a little more laid back, which I think helps with the translation off the field."
With life a North Sea breeze and his team underway with their rally plan, Rolfe would like to bag the happiness hat trick by getting back in the US national team picture. The last of his 10 caps came in October of 2008 and the injury troubles at Aalborg have limited his visibility.
"I know they've come to a couple of games, but they haven't been able to see much of me," he laughed. "I don't know what the future holds."
Still, Rolfe says playing in Denmark is a great first step for American players choosing to embark on a club career in Europe.
"Making a move like this and being successful on the field with your team will always, with this current national-team staff, put you in contention for a call-up at some point," he stated. "The Danish league is also visible to the other leagues. You get exposure."
Of course, Chicago is where Rolfe originally cut his teeth, working 123 MLS contests in five season with the Men In Red.
The Fire are currently near bottom of the Eastern Conference and have won just twice since the season started in March. Ever the fan, Rolfe has been rather frustrated watching the Fire go through a first 18 games of their season in a fashion that feels eerily familiar to him from a distance.
"I've seen some good things, but ..." Rolfe edits himself, searching for the softest way to describe Chicago's rough form. "They just … they haven't been lucky. There will always be a place in my heart for the Fire. I want to see them do well."
For now, the attacker and his current team will try to take any frustrations out on the SAS Liga. They do not want a repeat of 2010-11.
So what is the goal for this season? Obviously, Aalborg feel they have it in the locker to come correct after last season — but exactly how high up the table are we talking here?
"That's a difficult question and I think every team strives to win the league, no matter how you did last year or even how you start off this year," declared Rolfe. "Right now, we're trying to get one point on the road and three at home. In the first two games we did that, so I think we're happy with that."
It becomes pretty clear that the Ohio native carries an attitude over chasing the championship as tough as a buckeye. Rolfe's in it to win it until they can't anymore.
"I mean, why not believe you can?" he asked.
Rolfe and Aalborg get their next chance to make believers of everyone else when they host FC Midtjylland on August 1.