ISAAC HEATH - Tuesday, September 22, 2009
When Chicago Fire forward Chris Rolfe announced he was moving to Aalborg in January, he not only became the next American to move to Europe, but also the latest star to slip away from MLS for nothing.
Like many young American players that have been flooding over to Europe recently, Rolfe hopes to develop his game through exposure to stiffer competition and an all around higher level of play than is available in MLS, with the ultimate goal of returning to the national team.
"I am challenging myself with a new league, refocusing on my game, and will learn quite a bit about the game while I'm over there," Rolfe told YA in Chicago. "Hopefully it will pay off and make me a better player and catch Bob [Bradley]'s eye again."
"[Denmark] is one of the easiest places for me to make the transition both professionally and personally because a lot of them speak English over there, and the Danish league is a pretty technical league, so I feel I can develop well."
While Scandinavia is proving to be a strong place to develop American talent, with Danny Califf, Charlie Davies, Benny Feilhaber and Michael Parkhurst being prime examples, the real loser in all of this is MLS.
The combination of MLS contract structure, the well documented low salaries for many quality players, and allowing players to leave on free transfers, has caused the American top flight to regularly lose key players like Rolfe to other leagues.
"In my case, I'm not going to say they did anything wrong," Rolfe explained, "but I think if they rewarded some of the guys early on for having success, it would be easier to keep players around."
"I would have been interested in signing two years ago. When we started to renegotiate my contract I was playing well with the Fire and playing for the national team and they had me at a pretty low salary for what I was doing."
"It was fair because I obviously agreed to [my original contract]," the former Dayton Flyer added, "but if they tried to reward us earlier on in the contract they would probably keep more players around, because when you come to the end of your contract and you've already stuck it out three years you may as well stick it out one more year and see what happens."
While it may be a foregone conclusion that many American players will go to Europe regardless of MLS contract structure, MLS has let several of these players go for free.
Players like Carlos Bocanegra, Clarence Goodson, Parkhurst, and now Rolfe have all left the league without MLS receiving any compensation for them.
For example, MLS turned down a 2.5 million dollar bid from Preston North End for Taylor Twellman in 2008, and if the player has a similar opportunity available when his contract comes up in a few years, MLS may lose yet another player and receive nothing in return for him.
Aalborg wanted Rolfe this season, and tried to snatch him up this summer by offering MLS an undisclosed transfer fee. MLS turned down the offer and now Rolfe has signed a pre-contract with the Danish team for January of 2010.
"We never got a response [from MLS] as far as I'm concerned," a somewhat confused Rolfe explained. "I personally did not hear any reasoning behind it."
Few can deny the role MLS has played in the rapid growth of US soccer, however, like many others, Rolfe still sees room for even more improvement.
"It's still a young league, but if they would accept that now and start selling players that would make it more profitable and it could turn into a more competitive league quicker."