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Fire head coach Raphael Wicky expects a healthy, competitive Johan Kappelhof in 2021

Wicky: “He can be very important.”

SOCCER: OCT 07 MLS - Chicago Fire FC at Sporting Kansas City
Chicago Fire defender Johan Kappelhof before an MLS match between the Chicago Fire and Sporting Kansas City on October 7, 2020 at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, KS
Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

When Raphael Wicky was running down the list of new Chicago Fire players for 2021, he mentioned plenty of names you’d expect—Stanislav Ivanov, Chinonso Offor, and Jhon Espinoza were all off-season signings, and will join the club this season.

There’s also defender Carlos Teran, who joined the team in October, only seeing around 14 minutes of action. And there’s Luka Stojanovic, the highly regarded creative playmaker who only saw around 60 minutes of action before suffering a season-ending injury at the MLS is Back tournament. Neither player is technically “new,” but you get the point. They’re all basically starting fresh with Chicago this season.

But there’s one other guy who Wicky mentioned as a “new” player that seems a bit ridiculous at first—Johan Kappelhof. “Kap” is the Fire’s longest-serving player, but for Wicky, he really is a new weapon. The Dutch defender only played around 200 minutes total for the Fire last season, as he battled injury setback after injury setback. It was a choppy, start again, stop again season for Kappelhof, where he never really got healthy, and wasn’t able to help the team.

“He is for me, as a first year head coach last season, almost a new player,” Wicky told Hot Time. “So that makes six (new players). And I expect of those six players to give us more depth in the roster, to give us more natural competition, so that almost every position has competition, and no one has a free red carpet.”

Kappelhof was left unprotected by the Fire in Austin FC’s expansion draft late last year, and for awhile it seemed as if, one way or another, he wasn’t going to be back with the team this season. But Wicky went out of his way to say he wants Kappelhof back, and he expects him to provide competition at both the right-sided center back position, which Mauricio Pineda held down last season, and at right back. Boris Sekulic held down the right fullback position job pretty much uncontested in 2020, but Espinoza is expected to make a huge push for that job in 2021. For a club that lacked depth at certain positions last season, especially defensively, a versatile, experienced player like Kappelhof can be crucial.

So, Wicky wants to put the Kappelhof trade rumors to bed.

“I expect him to be back,” Wicky said. “That’s my wish. I expect him to be back, but in football, anything’s possible. I’m really happy he’s with us, and, really, my only thing is hopefully he can stay healthy and contribute to this team, because he can be very important.”