When head coach Veljko Paunovic's starting lineup was released prior to Sunday’s 4-0 victory over Orlando City SC, it became official that defender Johan Kappelhof would suit up for the Men In Red for the 100th time across all competitions.
“It’s a special moment to reach 100 games for a club,” said Kappelhof, who also surpassed the century mark (reaching 150) with FC Groningen in his six seasons with the Dutch Eredivisie club . “You always work hard, and the teammates appreciate you as well as the coaches. I’m also thankful that they used me all those games, that they put confidence in me. I’m happy that I reached 100 games for the club. I’m very proud of that.”
Since signing for the club prior to the start of 2016 season, Kappelhof has played in 90 (of a possible 97) regular season matches, nine Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup matches, and one MLS Cup playoff appearance. No less than an ironman on the field, the 28-year-old Dutchman has additionally gone the distance in 93 of those 100 matches, starting and playing a full 90 (or sometimes 120) minutes.
“One hundred games is of course special, but I don’t really look at the quantity of games,” Kappelhof said. “I look at the quality. I want to be there every game for the club, to bring good quality and help the team.”
Kappelhof did just that in Sunday’s match, which was made even more special by his direct contribution to teammate Michael de Leeuw’s first goal of 2018. Having been teammates since 2012 going back to the FC Groningen days, the pair’s long-running connection materialized in the second half.
On a 56th minute corner kick, Kappelhof found the ball directed his way and deftly back-heeled it across the box for a sliding de Leeuw to finish. It was de Leeuw’s first goal in over 13 months, having just returned in August from an ACL injury suffered at the end of the 2017 season.
“I had one assignment to do on the corner kicks,” Kappelhof said of the play. “I did it a few times, and then on that corner kick I thought, ‘I’m going to surprise him and go to the first post and maybe touch the ball.’ The ball came a little bit behind me, so I had to do like a little tricky thing to get it to Michael. I tried to get in the goal on the second post, but Michael was there so it was perfect.
“I expected him to come over to me and celebrate together, but he didn’t even know that I touched the ball. We laughed about it after the game.”
While personal and professional growth is expected after 100 competitive appearances and nearly three seasons played in Chicago, the 2017 MLS All-Star selection still feels he has yet to reach his ceiling.
“I think I’m more mature," Kappelhof said. "I’ve been now for almost three years in a foreign country with my family. Off the field, I feel very responsible for my family, of course. I’m more mature to help them and be there for them. On the field, I’m still growing as a player. I haven’t reached my full potential, so I’m always hungry to get better. I always get help from the club, the coaches and teammates. I think since I got here I’m a much better player, but I haven’t reached my full potential so there’s a lot more to improve.”
As for his next appearance, Kappelhof is remaining focused ahead of Saturday night when the club travels to take on the New England Revolution (6:30 p.m. CT, ESPN+).
"I feel really good," he said. "I’m in a good place. You never know what happens in the future. Maybe 100 more games are coming, but we’ll see."