After a whirlwind year-and-a-half period that’s included 64 matches played, the birth of a son, and a move across the ocean, Chicago Fire defender Johan Kappelhof is looking forward to capitalizing on his first MLS offseason.
“I have to take a good rest, mentally and physically,” he said. “I haven’t had time off since July 2015, so almost 18 months. It’s a good time to take some rest and reload, and of course do some training and be ready for the next season.”
Upon arriving in the Windy City in February, Kappelhof made the most of his first stateside campaign and was ultimately recognized as the team’s most valuable defensive player. He showed a knack for picking his spots well in year one while holding down positions both centrally and on the right side of the backline, finishing second in MLS with 113 total defensive interceptions. Kappelhof knows he can continue to take his on-field game to new heights, but his big focus heading into this offseason is in another area.
“I can always improve,” he said. “(Next year) I want to lead the team more in difficult times, try to be there for the team when we don’t play good…take responsibility more. I think that’s where I can improve.”
Improvements aside, stamina is one area where the 26-year-old can feel confident. Kappelhof was put to work immediately after signing with Chicago in February, despite having already played 27 matches across all competitions for former club FC Groningen. He’d go on to start 31 more times in MLS (33 appearances), missing only the season finale in Toronto with a right hip injury. The challenges of a mid-season switch to a new country and new league came smoothly.
“It didn’t surprise me,” he said. “I knew it before, that the road trips can be long, can be tough. I’m not used to that in Holland. But what surprised me? What surprised me is the fans. I didn’t know they were so great, here in Chicago of course and also in other clubs. They’re very great fans in the MLS, so it’s nice to see.”
Season one wasn’t without it’s challenges, however. Kappelhof is candid about both the ups:
“Montreal away was a good victory for us, a good feeling to finally win on the road. And of course, the home games that we won. It was such a great feeling with the fans behind us. Those were my best moments.”
As well as the downs:
“It was Vancouver, New England and New York, when we lost the three games. That was a difficult time for me. To be on the road such a long time – I’m not used to that – and lose those games…we were close to winning those games, so it was a big disappointment for us. To deal with that and reload for the next games was a little bit tough. I think that was the hardest moment in the season.”
Now, with his first MLS offseason ahead of him, Kappelhof will have some overdue time away to reflect and begin preparing for his second season in Chicago.
“This was a good year to learn from mistakes, but next year it has to be better. I know that for myself. For the team, we know that too. It’s a good thing, looking forward to improve that for next season.”