The life of a professional soccer player can take players to many different countries with very different cultures.
It's easy to become a fish out of water so when two Dutch players both signed with the Chicago Fire this offseason, it made for an easy friendship.
After training on Wednesday, John Goossens, who signed with the Fire following a preseason trial, and Johan Kappelhof, who transferred from Dutch club FC Groningen, were the last two to leave the field. They stayed several minutes after the session ended and hit cross-field passes to each other.
Goossens joined the Fire on trial in early February, midway through the team's stint in Tampa. Kappelhof's transfer became official on Feb. 2, but he didn't join camp until the team was in Portland for the final phase of the preseason.
“I was very happy that he came during my trial here," Goossens said. "It’s good to have somebody around who you can speak your own language.”
Despite enjoying the familiarity of being able to speak Dutch to each other, both are good English speakers. Both also played in the famed youth academy of Ajax in Amsterdam before beginning their professional careers elsewhere in the Netherlands.
Neither player has much history in the US. Goossens visited Florida on a vacation once while Kappelhof had never been in the country before joining the team in the preseason. Perhaps it was fitting that after arriving in Chicago on Sunday they were greeted with a snowstorm on Tuesday.
While knowledge of Major League Soccer in general was limited for both players, they made sure to do some research on the Internet.
“If I thought about MLS there’s a few clubs I know," Kappelhof said. "There’s Chicago Fire, LA Galaxy, New York Red Bulls. I knew the club and for myself I look on the Internet for some more information.”
"It’s really hard to follow the league on television in Europe, but I was interested a couple years ago in MLS," Goossens said. "I started searching on the Internet and I’m excited to be here.”
[SHOP FIRE: Get your Fire gear here]
So far the Fire and the country have left a good impression on Goossens.
“Here in the US everything is so professional," Goossens said. "It’s a high level. Everything from cleats, the clothes onto the pitch, everything is high level. I’m really happy and satisfied with the situation.”
The way Goossens wound up with the Fire was a situation of who you know. Goossens' agent already knew Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez. They got in touch and Rodriguez asked for Goossens to come in on trial.
“I would love to tell you it was the work of brilliant scouting, but candidly it wasn’t," Rodriguez said. "It was more a product of having good relations of people who know me and know [coach Veljko Paunovic] who believe that John’s style would fit with what we are trying to do."
Goossens had been with FC Voluntari in Romania. He played the full 90 minutes in Voluntari's final match before the league's winter break on Dec. 21. He was out of contract in early January. He went back home and within two weeks the Fire called to offer the trial.
Along with Kappelhof, who is likely to start at center back in Sunday's season opener, Goossens appears to be a key addition to the Fire.
“His talent, his understanding of the game and his ability of scoring goals, assisting... it’s something that we need for this team," Paunovic said. "We saw in the games that he played that he can play in different systems, different positions. It’s a great addition for us."
Rodriguez wasn't just impressed with his on-field talent either.
"I must say John is an incredible professional," Rodriguez said. "He gets off the plane from traveling all night and Pauno says to him, ‘Would you like a day or two to rest, acclimate to the time zone and get ready?’ He said, ‘No sir, I came here to win a job.’ He did.”