There was always a lot for Chicago Fire fans to like about Chris Rolfe, which will make it that much harder for them to root against Rolfe now that he's playing for a conference rival.
And it was a foregone conclusion that he would have to leave the club sooner rather than later. The Fire's salary-cap woes made sure of that.
The Fire traded the fan favorite on Wednesday to D.C. United for an undisclosed amount of allocation money. He wasn't the first to go because of the salary cap -- 2012 MLS Rookie of the Year Austin Berry returns to Toyota Park on Saturday (4 p.m., Channel 50) with the Philadelphia Union -- and he probably won't be the last veteran to leave as the Fire's new brass gives its younger, cheaper players a chance.
Homegrown players Harry Shipp and Victor Pineda as well as newcomer Benji Joya will get more playing time in Rolfe's place. Shipp is the oldest of the three at 22.
"The allocation money that we received in this trade will give us more flexibility and freedom moving forward," Frank Yallop, the team's coach and director of soccer, said in a club statement. "With our existing depth we felt that this was the right move to make."
Rolfe always was something of an overachiever. At 5-foot-8, 160 pounds with decent but not great speed, he never was a physical specimen. A third-round draft pick out of Dayton in 2005, he never was expected to play in 178 regular-season MLS games or earn a contract with Danish Superliga club Aalborg, where he spent three seasons before returning in 2012.
That he did is a tribute to his work ethic. That quality endeared him to Fire fans, as well as his loyalty to the Fire badge and easygoing personality off the field.
But at 31 and having struggled to score in 2013 and so far in 2014, the Fire needed Rolfe to make way.
The talent level in MLS is improving. If it's passing Rolfe by, that's a good thing for MLS fans.
The Fire's changing of the guard probably will continue. Salaries and salary-cap information are tightly guarded secrets in MLS, so we have to take Fire management's word for it when they say they don't have much room under the cap to maneuver. However, it seems likely the club will send other vets packing so they can bring in a high-priced designated player at midseason.
If these moves result in a few more wins, Fire fans will like that too.
Follow Orrin on Twitter @Orrin_Schwarz