BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – For the first time in his Chicago Fire career, Chris Rolfe feels secure heading into an offseason.
In his first five seasons with the club, Rolfe never had a guaranteed contract. Then he left for Aalborg BK in Denmark, where he found the security of a three-year deal.
Now that he's back in Chicago, he's got the best of both worlds: The team he wants to play for, and a contract that says they want him, too. And for more than just a little while.
“It's a great feeling to know not only that the team wants to keep me, but they have to keep me next year,” Rolfe told MLSsoccer.com. “That's a good feeling to have, and it takes the stress off of it, and it lets me spend more time and energy on preparing for next year and the team we're going to have and worrying about where I'm going to be in the future.”
Rolfe was critical of himself throughout the season, but his four months as a starter proved to be some of the best of his career. Moving to the second striker position, which he hadn't regularly played since high school, Rolfe flourished, winning the team's MVP award after scoring a team-high eight goals.
There are still nuances of the position that Rolfe has to become more familiar with. Learning how to find the ball while not tracking back too much was a constant point of emphasis throughout the season, especially as teams assigned their most athletic defensive midfielder to cover him most games.
“I think there are a number of things that I can improve upon, and that's what's fun for me,” Rolfe said. “It's a new challenge and a new opportunity to become more well-rounded as a player.”
Like Rolfe, this Fire team has plenty of room to grow simply by playing together for a longer period of time. They picked up two Designated Players, Sherjill MacDonald and Álvaro Fernández, after half of the season was already played, and four starters during the stretch run didn't spend the preseason with the Fire.
Still, Rolfe said this was the most successful regular season team he's been a part of. The next step is to make this a more successful playoff team than his previous five Chicago sides, which made the Conference Championships four times, but no further.
Unlike those five years, when thoughts of moving on were constant, Rolfe is pretty certain he'll be around for at least a few more playoff runs in Chicago.
“I would be happy, obviously to play for the Fire for the rest of my career, as long as we're doing things the right way and we're moving in a positive direction,” Rolfe said. “There are obviously different things that could come up that could change that opinion, but obviously right now, I'm very happy here with the club, and the staff.”