LINCOLN PARK — In the simplest of terms, Chicago Fire forward Chris Rolfe has discovered his very own Land of Oz.
The 30-year-old bachelor lives in a 1,300-square-foot Lincoln Park townhouse across the street from the spacious Oz Park and a short bike ride from Lake Michigan.
The locale has become an oasis for Rolfe, who hails from Kettering, Ohio (population 56,163) and prefers to hang out with his rescue Golden Retriever mix, Nashville, and roommate, John Mariscalco, rather than enjoy the fast-paced life of a sports star.
"Chris is a small-town kid that has come to love and appreciate the big city, but he's still found his small-town nook," said Fire midfielder Logan Pause, of Wicker Park.
Rolfe never has craved the spotlight, even when it was clear as a child that he was a dynamic soccer prodigy.
His mother, Donna, said Rolfe's shyness was so extreme — he would stay home instead of going to childhood friends' birthday parties — that she's "shocked" he evolved into a Major League Soccer standout.
"When he first started playing on his older brother's YMCA team, he would practice by himself behind the bushes instead of with teammates," said Donna Rolfe, who routinely makes the five-hour drive with her husband, Ralph, to watch Chris' games.
"I never thought he would make it as far as he has because of his personality," she said.
Keeping things simple
Rolfe received a blender from his parents for his 30th birthday on Jan. 17.
And he was ecstatic.
"I enjoy the simple things in life," said Rolfe, who in December started a gluten-free diet and regularly cooks for himself using the blender and a Crock-Pot.
Rolfe scored a team-best eight goals last season and was named the team's MVP, but you'd never know that by looking inside his townhouse.
There is one — one — picture of him in a Fire uniform. The rest of the abode looks like a normal bachelor pad: a firepit in the front yard, a bicycle resting on a wall near the kitchen table, a giant-screen TV in the living room.
"We live the dream one day at a time," Mariscalco, 29, said jokingly.
The roommates have known each other since playing soccer together as 8-year-olds. And they stayed connected through the sport, with Rolfe starring at his hometown University of Dayton while Mariscalco was a top player at Butler University.
That progression continued to the pro level. Rolfe was drafted by the Fire in 2005, and Mariscalco competed for the Chicago Fire Reserve team.
"We have a lot in common," Mariscalco said. "It's almost like living with an older brother."
Rolfe's first stint with the Fire lasted from 2005 through 2009, when he signed to play for Danish Superliga team Aalborg BK.
Another of his good friends, former Dayton teammate and current Lincoln Park resident Brennen Randquist, said the pair would communicate via Gchat or Skype nearly every day for the three years Rolfe played overseas.
"He was really excited when he first went over there, but eventually you could tell how lonely he was," said Randquist, 29.
So Randquist — not to mention his former teammates and thousands of Fire fanatics — were overjoyed when Rolfe decided to return to the Chicago club last year.
"I think everyone was pretty upset when he left," said Fire defender Gonzalo Segares, of Roscoe Village, who is Rolfe's roomie on roadtrips. "It was clear when he came back how much the fans love him."
Rolfe adores them, too.
He has regular digital banter with Fire supporters. Ben Burton, an original member of the team's Section 8 cheer seating section, said Rolfe "is certainly one of the friendliest people I know."
"I feel like at any point in time if I had a question, I could ask him," said Burton, of Oak Park. "He's genuinely concerned about people."
But Rolfe and his mother said he's definitely looking for Mrs. Right.
"I don't want him to find a groupie. I have great faith he will make a great choice someday, and we're not pushing," she said of her son, who noted he's had three serious relationships, including one of eight years. "I know with his travel schedule, it makes it hard for him to meet someone."
In the meantime, Rolfe will keep trying to put shots in the back of the net for the Fire (0-3-1), who face Minnesota United FC in a friendly Friday.
When Rolfe began his professional career, he hoped to earn enough money to avoid working for a year, so his nine stellar seasons at the game's top levels have been unexpected.
Living in the heart of a premier Windy City neighborhood has been a cherry on top.
"I missed Chicago a lot," Rolfe said. "It's good to be back."