Chris Rolfe's return to Chicago provides Fire boss Frank Klopas with an experienced, potent and versatile upgrade to his squad. Rolfe may sometimes struggle to stay fit, but he offers the type of proven quality that MLS coaches crave.
Now all Klopas has to do is figure how to deploy his new weapon.
Rolfe's versatility serves both as a blessing and a curse. At this point in his career, he doesn't have an established home on the teamsheet. He spent plenty of time shutting between midfield and forward during his first spell with the Fire between 2005 and 2009, and his Danish employers Aalborg BK preferred to use him on the right flank.
A quick survey of the scene may at first place him on the right in the Fire's usual 4-4-2 setup. Rolfe's recent experience in that particular spot would serve him well. He also represents a more natural fit there than current choice Logan Pause.
Pause, however, plays a critical role in retaining the balance in midfield. His defensive qualities – namely, his willingness to tuck inside and provide support to Pável Pardo – compensate for the absence of a second holding player in the center of the park. A more adventurous option on the right would likely expose Pardo's lack of mobility in his holding role and heap further pressure on a rearguard already adjusting to the recent loss of Cory Gibbs.
If Klopas decides to retain the status quo to ensure his defensive shape, then he will likely decide to partner Rolfe with Dominic Oduro up front.
The projected combination would likely pose more problems for opposing defenses than the current pairing of Oduro and Patrick Nyarko. Both incumbents rely on speed as their primary way of testing opposing defenses. Most teams compensate by setting a deeper line to prevent the ball over the top and snuffing out the space provided to the Fire attackers in the open field. Unless Nyarko and Oduro can break free on the counter, they often find their primary strengths mitigated by simple tactical adjustments.
Those tactics wouldn't work as well with a different look up front. Rolfe lacks the searing pace Oduro and Nyarko possess, but he offers craftier movement and supplies a greater threat outside of the penalty area with his ability to shoot from from distance. If Oduro continues to force opposing defenses to respect his space over the top, then Rolfe could drop off from time to time to mine the extra room in front of the line. Rolfe isn't a creator, per se, but his qualities might allow the Fire to pose a different threat up front and prompt further adjustments from opposing sides.
The decision to play Rolfe up front would also create a trickle-down effect designed to create some much-needed competition for places in midfield. Creative schemers Sebastián Grazzini and Marco Pappa haven't displayed their best form this season or felt any pressure from players behind them to improve their performances. Nyarko's potential return to the midfield selection pool would create options for Klopas – the natural winger could feature on the left flank if selected and inject more width, while Grazzini or Pappa could control matters in the middle – without disrupting the defensive work submitted by Pardo and Pause.
A little disruption in certain areas isn't a bad thing thing for a side still trying to find its best form in 2012. Rolfe's arrival supplements a potentially formidable attacking group with a different and dynamic option. Once he slides into the lineup (perhaps even for Saturday's visit to Toronto FC), his presence should help the Fire address those concerns in front of goal and make a concerted push toward a playoff place.
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