While most offseasons focus on which players a team can bring in, sometimes it’s a player who returns that becomes most important.
For the Chicago Fire, that’s Johan Kappelhof. The centerback, who has been a staple for the team since 2016, signed a new three-year deal with the Fire on Saturday.
He was out of contract after 2018 and his future with the team looked murky at best. The preseason began without Kappelhof under contract. He flew to join the team in Spain on Saturday. He hasn’t trained yet, but will re-integrate with the group shortly.
Financials of the new contract were not released, but Kappelhof will be a targeted allocation money player. He made $595,000 in 2018 according to the MLS Players Union.
The 28-year-old Dutchman has made 95 MLS appearances in three seasons with the Fire. He was second on the team in minutes in both 2016 and 2017 and third in 2018.
At the end of the 2018 season, Kappelhof didn’t give any comment about his future, but reflected on his three years with the Fire.
“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.”
At the time, that may have sounded like the end of his tenure with the Fire, but he has returned.
He also commented on his and the team’s struggles in 2018. He lamented that he didn’t have a consistent partner at centerback. Kappelhof didn’t have his best season with the Fire individually, either, especially after being an All-Star in 2017.
At least on paper, Kappelhof should have a consistent partner in Brazilian center back Marcelo. He was the Fire’s first signing of the offseason. Marcelo’s experience in the Portuguese league gives him the resume of a player who should be solid in MLS. Pairing him with a proven MLS centerback in Kappelhof gives the Fire some stability at the back.
General manager Nelson Rodriguez said Tuesday that the team was still in discussions with Kappelhof and two other foreign centerbacks. The Fire still have big holes at both left and right back and still could use more depth at centerback, but this is a big step toward reworking the back line.