BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. — Chris Rolfe had never been part of the US youth national team set-up, so when the Kettering, Ohio, native left the University of Dayton, he didn’t have a great idea of how he might stack up against international competition. He got his chance when he left the Chicago Fire in 2009 after five seasons and spent parts of the next three with Danish club Aalborg BK before returning to the Windy City in April.
Many of his teammates haven't had that opportunity. And that’s where midsummer friendlies come in handy, Rolfe explained.
“You see, ‘Oh, maybe I can play at this level, or maybe not at this level, but I’m good enough to give it a shot somewhere else,’” he said at training on Friday. “I think that did kind of open my eyes to what maybe I was capable of, and it allowed me to challenge myself a little bit more to take that jump to Denmark.”
A new wave of young players on the Fire will get the same chance when they play English Premier League side Aston Villa at Toyota Park on Saturday (7:30 pm ET; watch LIVE online).
Many of Chicago’s veterans will sit for the match. After playing against the New York Red Bulls on Wednesday, flight delays pushed the Fire’s arrival to early the next morning. Some players are too drained to play their third game in eight days.
“Some guys can’t go,” head coach Frank Klopas said. “We take it serious, we want to put on a good performance. But sometimes you’ve got to rest some guys because they’re not able to go. It’s good to give some other guys some opportunities in games like this.”
And for those who do play, it’ll be a nice respite from the MLS schedule.
“These games are more for fun and to relax a little bit,” defender Gonzalo Segares told MLSsoccer.com. “We’re in a good position, but every game is important, so every game you’ve got pressure. In these games, you can turn it down a little bit, enjoy it more, have guys who aren’t on the field to get minutes.”
While a few players dismissed questions of whether this was a chance to prove their worth to an English Premier League side, Rolfe knows it will be valuable for the young guys to see how they stack up.
“It can be a showcase, if you want to look at it that way,” he said. “But for younger players it’s a chance to test themselves against that top level.”