Dutch defender Johan Kappelhof 'feels at home' with the Fire

Dutch defender Johan Kappelhof 'feels at home' with the Fire

One of the bright spots for the Chicago Fire this season has been Johan Kappelhof.

The Dutch defender, whose 26th birthday is Friday, joined the team in February from FC Groningen in his native country and quickly emerged as the Fire’s top defender. Kappelhof has played in every game this season and has played the full 90 minutes in all but one league game.

It hasn’t taken long for Kappelhof to feel comfortable with the Fire.

“I feel at home now in the club and also with my private life,” Kappelhof said. “I feel at home in the US and in Chicago. I feel good.”

Part of the reason for the easy transition has been his two fellow countrymen on the roster. John Goossens, who joined the team, initially on trial, soon after Kappelhof signed, and Michael de Leeuw, who joined the Fire in June and was a teammate of Kappelhof’s at Groningen, give the Fire a trio of Dutch players. After games, odds are you will see two or all three of the Dutch players walking out of the locker room and talking together. Goossens, Kappelhof and de Leeuw even spent the Fourth of July together with their families.

“It helps,” Kappelhof said. “If there’s something, you can always ask them. We have each other. Also, when the training time is over we have each other. We can help each other. That’s nice that they are there.”

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Kappelhof began playing at age six. He played with an amateur club for two years before joining the famous Ajax academy.

“I’m from Amsterdam so if you play for Ajax that’s a dream come true,” Kappelhof said. “I’m very happy that I’ve played there. It’s a very good youth academy.”

Ajax’s youth academy is one of the most well-respected in the world. Kappelhof played there for 13 years.

He played as a right winger before he joined Ajax. They moved him to defender.

“All the trainers had played professional football,” Kappelhof said of his youth coaches at Ajax. “They look at you and see your qualities and decide if you can be a defender or a midfielder or an attacker.”

Kappelhof adjusted to playing defender and took to the position. His explanation for why he likes playing defender is not exactly typical though.

“I like to have the ball,” Kappelhof said. “As a central defender, the buildup starts at the back. Mostly the central defenders get a lot of passes and I like that.”

Kappelhof has become a leader in the Fire’s defense because of his high-level experience, especially with a number of inexperienced players playing alongside him at times. He racked up over 120 appearances with Groningen in the Dutch Eredivisie, but admits he doesn’t talk much in the locker room and doesn’t have a typical leadership personality. Instead, Kappelhof is a lead-by-example type.

“We appreciate Johan’s leadership on the field where he actually gives a good example and boosts with his great attitude on the field,” coach Veljko Paunovic said. “He is influencing all others, especially young players and young players playing next to him like Jonathan Campbell.”

Campbell is the Fire’s rookie center back who has earned a fairly consistent spot in the starting lineup. Campbell praised Kappelhof’s athleticism, but the bigger effect on Campbell has been how Kappelhof positions himself and reads the game.

“He is constantly on me in a good way,” Campbell said. “He’s getting me in better positions. He’s good at reading it, but he’s setting himself up in good positions so sometimes he’ll help me like ‘Hey, you need to be more tucked in. You need to be pushed up higher.’ Those type of things.”

The Fire are in last in Major League Soccer and the defense has allowed key goals late in games recently. Kappelhof said his own performance and the defense in general can both improve.

“I’m happy, but it can always be better,” he said. “I think I can do much better, as a defense and as a team we can do better, too.”

Manchester City brings Premier League trophy to Chicago ahead of preseason game in Soldier Field

NBC Sports Chicago

Manchester City brings Premier League trophy to Chicago ahead of preseason game in Soldier Field

Manchester City is coming off a season in which it dominated the English Premier League to the tune of a record 100-point season.

City is kicking off the preseason of its title defense in Chicago. City takes on Borussia Dortmund at Soldier Field on Friday night.

The last time the reigning Premier League champions were in Chicago was when rivals Manchester United came to Soldier to take on the Chicago Fire in 2011.

The Citizens won’t have the full arsenal of stacked stars for its U.S. tour, which also includes stops in New York and Miami as part of the International Champions Cup. Many of the team’s best players are getting a break after playing in the World Cup. Belgium’s Kevin De Bruyne, one of the stars of the tournament, is one of six Man City players to reach the semifinals.

Paul Dickov, who played for City for nearly 10 years between 1996 and 2008, is on tour with the team and talked about City’s preparations.

“The reason the clubs want to come to the States and play in International Champions Cup is the facilities are fantastic, the training facilities, the hotels, the treatment they get and just give them the best preparation going into what’s going to be a hard season,” Dickov said. “Nobody has won the Premier League back-to-back titles for nearly 10 years now so it’s going to be tough. Coming here and being able to prepare the way they can in the United States is going to put them on a long way to regain the title again.”

City brought the Premier League trophy to Wrigley Field on Thursday for the Cubs-Cardinals game. Dickov got to throw out the first pitch. The Scotsman threw a strike, much to his relief.

“I was quite calm beforehand, but I must admit when I got out there and I had to walk out there both hands started getting a bit sweaty,” he said. “I managed to make it and I got a fantastic reception off the Chicago Cubs fans so thank you to everybody at Chicago Cubs for having me there. It was great. Something I’ll never forget.”

Dickov compared Cubs fans to City fans in the way both teams struggled for a long time before finding success.

“They stuck by us through thick and thin when things weren’t as great,” Dickov said of Man City fans. “I suppose it’s a little bit like the Chicago Cubs here in Chicago. The fans turn out, they get 30-40 thousand, great atmosphere, back their team.”

While promoting the game, the Premier League trophy made multiple stops in Chicago, including with the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field on an off day.

City also took the trophy and new signing Riyad Mahrez, who just joined Man City from 2016 champions Leicester City, to Haas Park in Logan Square. Haas Park includes a soccer field donated by Manchester City and the American embassy of the United Arab Emirates in 2012.

“The outcome of it has been great,” Dickov said. “Thousands of children and families benefiting, not just from the soccer part of it, but the education program as well. To be down there the other day for the full day and seeing the joy in the kids face seeing soccer here and the other activities that are on is great because, yeah, football is fantastic, soccer is fantastic and when you’re out there and you play you want to win, but it’s important, especially from Manchester City’s point of view, the city and the community. The stuff that they do off the field is second to none and it’s giving something back.”

Chicago Fire permanently sign midfielder Aleksandar Katai


Chicago Fire permanently sign midfielder Aleksandar Katai

The Fire have secured the transfer of midfielder Aleksandar Katai from Deportivo Alavés of the Spanish La Liga, the team announced Wednesday afternoon.

This season’s breakout playmaker has been signed with Chicago through 2019, with a 2020 club option. Before the transfer, Katai was on loan from Alavés, which was set to expire after July.

The Serbian player has emerged as one of the most important pieces of the Fire’s offense this season. Since joining the club on Feb. 6, Katai has scored eight goals in 18 league matches, tying forward Nemanja Nikolić for the most on the team. Katai also has three assists in 2018.

The 27-year-old’s biggest game of the year came against New York City FC last month when he scored two goals to lead the Fire to 3-2 victory. His production this season in the MLS has been much more significant than it was in 23 matches with Alavés, where Katai only tallied three goals and four assists.

His transfer fee is unknown but, according to Sam Stejskal of, he will be a “Targeted Allocation Money player” for the rest of this season and will not be a Designated Player until 2019. Whatever the official price was, acquiring Katai for a lengthier amount of time seemed like a must.

Throughout this season, the Fire were rumored to be in talks with legendary Spanish striker Fernando Torres. On Tuesday, he signed with Sagan Tosu, a Japanese club. The Fire signed Katai the next day, showing that the team was possibly waiting for Torres to leave the market.

Chicago will face the Philadelphia Union Wednesday night at Toyota Park, where Katai will look to continue his impressive season.