Postcard from Europe
Aalborg forward Chris Rolfe may have missed his team's last four games of the season with hamstring tendon woes, but it at least gave him a chance to settle into Danish daily life.
And for an American, that requires a bit of an adjustment. Aalborg is just north of 57th parallel—or about the same latitude as the southernmost tip of the Alaskan border. That means the days were mighty short when the 27-year-old made the pond hop after his Chicago Fire deal expired last December.
"When I first got here, it was pretty disappointing because we'd come to training and it would be dark out," Rolfe told MLSsoccer.com by phone. "We'd stay here until three o'clock, sometimes four, and I'd get home and it would be dark already. It deterred me from getting out and seeing the city and walking around."
Of course, the flipside is that days stretch to abnormal lengths by season's end. "Now, it's already staying light until 9:30 at night and it's fantastic," reported Rolfe. "I absolutely love it."
It's just one of the many happy adjustments for the veteran of 123 Major League Soccer games with the Fire.
"I think I've adjusted well," offered Rolfe. "I live in the city, so I can basically walk everywhere that I need to go; to go shopping or get groceries or see the doctor, anything I need to do."
He hasn't experienced any "Holy cow!" cultural moments – but as you'd figure, there are a few surprises when one switches hemispheres.
"There really hasn't been a moment like that," Rolfe said, straining to think of the strangest difference from American life. "It's pretty similar culturally. The only thing is, I don't have a dryer in my apartment. That caught me off-guard. I didn't laundry for like the first three weeks."
"And I don't have a microwave," he confessed. "Those were the first things, when I walked in my apartment, I said [to my landlord], ‘Can we get these things?’ And he looked at me like 'Why would you need those?' So, I don't have 'em."
Then again, he isn't in Denmark to nuke burritos. Rolfe has been brought to provide offense. With several injuries absences down the stretch, including compatriot striker Marcus Tracy, Aalborg limped to the finish line with just 36 goals in 33 games.
Before the season-ending injury, Rolfe did pitch in with a goal and an assist in seven outings. Four mid-April days after serving a corner-kick assist on the winner away to Benny Feilhaber’s Aarhus GF, the Ohio native bagged the lone goal in a big win over Odense BK.
Due to the lean stable, Rolfe was pushed to the top of the formation. Before playing a lot of midfield for the Fire, he'd had plenty of time at small forward.
"I enjoy it," he declared. "I love being close to the goal. It's not new, but it's a different approach to the position. I've worked really hard to improve as a midfielder. And now I get to play forward again.
"I'm playing a lot of target forward,” he continued, “which is not necessarily what I'm used to. But the coach [Magnus Pehrsson] has done a good job of explaining his expectations while I'm up there. That obviously helps a lot."
With the need for him up top so great, Rolfe carried on with the hammy nag as long as he could. "And, obviously, I wanted to be out there," he notes.
At halftime of a 2-0 loss in April at eventual repeat champs FC Copenhagen, he was shut down. With him among the sidelined attackers, AaB won just one of their last six to fall from the final Europa League slot to finish fifth.
Though abbreviated, Rolfe enjoyed the first half-season of a three-year deal. The locker room is a bit different than in Chicago, and he doesn't always understand the chatter. Not that he's left out, mind you.
"They're all fluent [in English]," he assured. "There's a lot of differences here from Chicago, but a lot of them are positive. I enjoy the guys. We're here for about five hours a day, and about an hour-and-a-half of that is training, so we get to spend a lot of time together."
Rolfe can be forgiven if Aalborg were a little more ready for him than he was for them. He is the fourth American to play for the three-time Danish champions after Tracy, 2008 captain/league winner Danny Califf and 1990s attacker Peter Woodring.
"I think things are tactically a bit different [from MLS]," gauged Rolfe. "Sometimes I want to play fast and everybody else wants to play slow. Or I want these sort of runs, but the guys on the team are expecting me to make these another type of run. There's still a bit of a learning curve there. To be honest, by no means have I perfected that. But it's coming along."
Rolfe will get to continue bringing it along when the new season kicks off in July. He believes production could get him back into a Nats uniform for the first time since January of 2009 – not that this factored in his transfer to Denmark.
"That's more of a byproduct of the move," he said. "I think anybody playing and doing well at a professional level in a top league is going to draw attention from the National Team. So yeah, that can be a good thing from being here. But at the same time, it won't mean a thing if I can't perform and be consistent."