BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – Chris Rolfe took in the moment on Sunday after his first game at Toyota Park in almost three years.
While his teammates gathered at midfield to celebrate their 3-1 win over the New York Red Bulls, Rolfe trotted toward Section 8 behind the north goal, his hands alternating between clapping and raised in a victorious manner. He hugged several fans who had been clamoring to see him make his first home appearance of 2012, and he came out of the scrum with a blue scarf around his neck.
“They’re fans that I haven’t seen in a long time,” Rolfe, who was drafted by the Fire in 2005, said. “But they’ve always been there to support me. That was pretty cool.”
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The special day was a long time coming for Rolfe, who didn’t play for six weeks after re-signing with the club in late April. He’d been away for three years while playing for Aalborg BK in Denmark.
Rolfe scored in the 80th minute to seal the Fire victory, notching his first goal of the season in his second game by tapping home Patrick Nyarko’s cross.
“It’s exciting to have him back,” Nyarko said. “He’s a finisher, he’s a goalscorer, he has great feet and he works hard. He’s a two-way player. You could see when he came in the game, initially, he was helping us defend the extra midfielder in the midfielder, then he found his opportunity.”
Almost immediately after he came on in the 62nd minute, his impact was felt.
In the 64th minute, Rolfe sprung Oduro with a perfectly-weighted through ball. Oduro’s shot appeared to go over the line but Wilman Conde slid to clear and it wasn’t ruled a goal.
In the 80th minute, Patrick Nyarko served a goal-mouth pass to Rolfe, who stuck the ball into the empty net, which led to a particularly jubilant celebration.
Coach Frank Klopas was excited by what he saw from the 29-year-old, who said wasn’t quite ready to play 90 minutes Sunday.
“He changed the game. You can see the class that he has, he has really clean technical ability, he’s very good with the ball,” Klopas said. “You have to give [him] credit … for being in the right spot [on his goal] and putting the game away there.”
Rolfe didn’t delve into the emotions that he displayed after the final whistle sounded. But teammates, especially those who knew him during his first five years with the Fire, know how special Sunday was for him.
“I’m sure that today is a very, very emotional day,” captain Logan Pause told MLSsoccer.com. “Returning from the time abroad and all the injuries he’s been fighting over the last couple of years, I just think it was a great re-debut for the Fire.”