This is the first of a two-part article on Chicago’s current international players. First up: goalkeepers and defenders. Look for Midfielders and Forwards next week.
The long wait is over at last. The Chicago Fire begin their 2019 MLS campaign this weekend in Los Angeles as they take on the five-time MLS Champion Galaxy.
As the Men in Red take the field, Hot Time in Old Town profiles Chicago’s players with international experience. We look at their former clubs and the route they took to arrive in the Windy City.
Chicago has an exciting and dynamic mix of young emerging players and seasoned veterans that have played in a variety of top leagues, and those veterans bring their experience and wisdom to the club in training and on the pitch.
Coming into the 2019 season, the Fire will look to take a more international mindset, taking lessons and strategies from across the globe, beginning with manager Veljko Paunovic’s decision to hold pre-season in Madrid in an attempt to appreciate and study the soccer culture in Spain. The Men In Red will utilize the experience of their international players on and off the field, benefiting from their knowledge and mind for the game and experience with unique styles of play as Chicago looks to regain their spot at the top of the league.
Between the sticks, standing in at an imposing 6’4”, is one of Chicago’s newest additions, goalkeeper David Ousted. Originally from Roskilde, Denmark, Ousted started his career with the Danish side Brøndby IF, but did not play for the club. After loan spells at a number of Danish teams over the next four seasons, he made his breakthrough with Danish Superliga club SønderjyskE in 2007, becoming a fulltime starter during the 2009 season. During his time with the team, Ousted made 48 starts, keeping sixteen clean sheets and saving 77% of available shots.
Ousted was brought to Randers FC in 2010, where he played 103 matches and kept 35 clean sheets. Ousted led Randers to a third-place finish in the 2012–13 Danish Superliga season which saw the club qualify for the 2013–14 UEFA Europa League. Ousted moved to the Vancouver Whitecaps in 2013, leading the league in clean sheets in his debut year, and was named to the MLS All-Star Team in 2015 and 2016. Ousted was claimed off waivers from DC United in January 2019.
In front of Ousted are two center backs with over thirteen seasons of combined international experience, Johan Kappelhof and Marcelo.
Hailing from Amsterdam, Kappelhof began his playing career in the Ajax youth academy system, where he spent thirteen years, before moving to FC Groningen to begin his senior career in 2011. With Groningen he won the KNVB Cup in 2014 and qualified for the UEFA Europa League, where he appeared in all six of his club’s games, testing himself against some of the game’s top players. Kappelhof signed with the Fire as a Discovery Player in 2016, appearing in 33 games his first year in Chicago. In 2017, Kappelhof was the Fire’s Defensive Player of the Year and was named an MLS All-Star, starting 33 games and contributing four assists for the club. Kappelhof started 29 games in 2018 for Chicago and added another four assists.
Another strong defender, new addition Marcelo looks to form a formidable partnership with Kap. The 29-year old Brazilian began his career with Portuguese club G.D. Ribeirao in 2010, making 21 appearances for the club before signing with Rio Ave to begin the 2011 season. Marcelo played for Rio for seven seasons, earning the club’s player of the year award in 2012, amassing 152 starts and contributing six goals. In May of 2018 he joined Sporting CP but was shipped to the Fire after only making one appearance.
In addition, the Fire have two players with enormous international success at the club and international level that are able to step into defense when called upon. Liechtenstein international Nicolas Hasler began his professional career in 2009 with FC Balzers, where he scored four goals in his 18 appearances. Hasler then moved to USV Eschen-Mauren, where he scored three times in 21 games. His breakthrough came with FC Vaduz in 2011, where he spent six season and made 136 appearances. Hasler then moved to MLS, joining Toronto FC in 2017, where he won the MLS Cup while scoring three goals and adding four assists in 24 games. Hasler has earned 51 caps for his national team, being named the Liechtensteiner Footballer of the Year three times, in 2015, 2017 and 2018.
Finally, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the Fire’s German star. Former Die Mannschaft captain Bastian Schweinsteiger represents a pinnacle of competitive and personal achievement. Basti spent seventeen seasons with Bayern Munich and two seasons in the Premier League with Manchester United, in addition to earning 121 caps with Germany over twelve years. At the club level, Schweinsteiger has amassed eight Bundesliga titles, seven DFB-Pokal titles, a UEFA Champions League title, and a FIFA Club World Cup title. He also won the World Cup with Germany in 2014 and made it to the Finals in the 2008 European Championships, leading to him being named the German national team Player of the Year in 2010 and the 2013 Footballer of the Year in Germany.
These players have had the opportunity to perform at the top level of leagues across the globe, challenging themselves against top competition, As Chicago builds towards its 2019 opener, Paunovic will be relying on his experienced international players to set the tone for his team on the pitch, building on their Madrid camp and the lessons learned abroad as the Fire look to start their season strong and build on the successes of 2017.