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Fire’s Johan Kappelhof reflects on season of ups, downs knowing he is suspended for season finale

Jul 21, 2018; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Fire defender Johan Kappelhof (4) before the game against the Toronto FC at Bridgeview Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

During the past three seasons, Johan Kappelhof has been the most consistent thing on the field for the Chicago Fire.

The Dutch centerback has totaled 104 appearances, 101 of which were starts, since joining the team before the 2016 season. No other player reached 100 appearances with the team in that time span. He has also been top three on the Fire in MLS minutes in each of his three seasons. On top of that, he made the MLS All-Star Team in 2017.

Kappelhof won’t be taking part in the season finale against D.C. United on Sunday due to a yellow card suspension. His contract is also up at the end of the season. He didn’t want to talk about his future, but he was willing to look back on his season and the three years with the team.

“I’m happy that I came here,” Kappelhof said. “I’m happy that I made the decision to come here. I think I grew as a player and as a person, on and off the field. I think the club gave me a lot and I think I also gave back to the club. I was always available for the coaches and I always gave everything I had. I played a lot of games and I reached 100 games and I’m proud of that. I was happy here. My family was happy.”

The 28-year-old said this season had ups and downs for him. Not only did he have to deal with adjusting to a new centerback partner after the departure last offseason of Joao Meira, who joined the Fire in the same offseason as Kappelhof, but a number of different players tried to fill that spot.

“It was hard because it was not always the same person next to me,” Kappelhof said. “It was I think not ideal.”

Jonathan Campbell, Grant Lillard, Brandon Vincent and Bastian Schweinsteiger each had at least a handful of starts at centerback. Lillard, a rookie, dealt with injuries at different parts of the season. Campbell was hurt to start the year and hasn’t made a start since August. Vincent played centerback in the middle of the season before moving back to left back. Now Schweinsteiger has played a string of games at the spot.

“I think it’s better to have one or two guys who always play together, but also injuries made it happen like that so that was not easy, but last year we had Joao,” Kappelhof said. “I played a lot of games with him so we could work on a good connection in the game.”

Another thing Kappelhof had to deal with this season was a scary car accident in early July. On his way to training, his car flipped during the crash. He left with only minor injuries and only missed one game. He returned to game action six days later.

At the time, Kappelhof was coming off a two-game suspension for a red card, which meant he missed three consecutive matches. He said it took longer for things to feel more normal.

“Maybe it took a month or a month and a half until I was fully back and fully myself,” he said. “I had to get the confidence back and I didn’t play good games at the time and we also lost a lot of games during that time. I think end of August I felt good and I played good games.”

The game Kappelhof sat out after the accident was the first of an eight-match losing streak in MLS play. The Fire went from being in a playoff spot to almost entirely out of the race in less than two months.

Meanwhile, Kappelhof was dealing with the stress of a bad car accident.

“It’s of course a mental thing,” he said. “To get the focus back again was hard for me. I think when I look back I had to take more days off or more time off with training sessions or games. After four days I already played my games and week in, week out we had a tough schedule at the time. I played every game 90 minutes. I think when I look back that was not smart of myself. Just protect yourself.”

After all that Kappelhof heads into the season finale knowing he is unable to play.

“I know the season is over so it’s just to help the guys in training,” Kappelhof said.

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