Longtime Fire player says "it feels like a new team"

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Chicago Fire's Johan Kappelhof, right, clears the ball away from Orlando City's Carlos Rivas during a 2017 game. No player has been with the Chicago Fire longer than Kappelhof, but even he is surprised when considering all the changes the club made this off-season.

    Chicago Fire's Johan Kappelhof, right, clears the ball away from Orlando City's Carlos Rivas during a 2017 game. No player has been with the Chicago Fire longer than Kappelhof, but even he is surprised when considering all the changes the club made this off-season. AP Photo/John Raoux

 
 
Updated 1/23/2020 8:19 PM

No player has been with the Chicago Fire longer than Johan Kappelhof, but even he is surprised when considering all the changes the club made this off-season.

"It's a lot different because it's a whole new technical staff," Kappelhof said at Wednesday's preseason media availability. "New players, new logo, so it feels like a new team, new club but still the same. It feels different, yeah."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Of course Kappelhof would love to have new results also. Entering his fifth season in Chicago, Kappelhof has experienced just one MLS playoff game, a 4-0 loss in 2017.

"I think we have a good foundation now, and we have to build on top of that," he said. "It's hard to say because the team is not complete yet, I think. But I have a good feeling about the atmosphere, the new wave going through the club. So I love it, and I'm very excited about 2020."

Kappelhof, 29, played much of last season at right back, but he's hoping to move back inside where he feels more comfortable.

"But I will play where the team needs me," he said. "If it's in the right I will give my all. If it's in the central, what I like, I will give the same effort like always."

The young veteran:

The Fire roster stands at 19 players for now, six signed from the Fire's academy.

One of those players, Djordje Mihailovic is still just 21 years old, but entering his fourth season with the first team, he's second in seniority, having signed a month before midfielder Brandt Bronico. And that doesn't include his four years with the academy.

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He sees part of his role as being a leader and showing the newer players what the club is all about.

Mihailovic also had a chance to train in Germany this off-season with FC Nurnberg.

"It was just training," the Lemont native said. "I don't want anybody thinking I was going to trial. It was just training."

But it was helpful.

"Obviously, it's a goal down the line to raise my level to the level of European players," he said. "And to pick up the little things -- how they live every day, how they eat, how they train on a daily basis -- they're killing each other in training every day, and if I can bring that bite and competitive attitude here, it's going to raise everybody else's level."

What does Mihailovic believe the Fire is capable of this season?

"We're always looking for trophies," he said. "We're going to say that every year to the media. But if we could develop a certain style and really connect to the fans on an emotional level, I think that's what we're going to look for at the beginning of the season.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"And like I was saying before, if we could develop that system and that consistency, it's going to come with success."

The other local guys:

The newest homegrown player is Bolingbrook's Mauricio Pineda.

Signed after four seasons at the University of North Carolina, he said he doesn't have a preference between holding midfielder and central defender. He played mostly holding mid at UNC.

As for his role with the Fire and the possibility he might go out on loan, Pineda said he hasn't talked to new coach Raphael Wicky about it.

"No, he hasn't said much about it," Pineda said. "It's still early obviously. We're two days into preseason. Haven't talked much about that. Still depends how I do in preseason."

The Fire's other homegrown players include midfielder/defender Jeremiah Gutjahr (Bloomington, Indiana) and defender Andre Reynolds II, the only homegrown the Fire has signed from Chicago. Brothers Nicholas and Gabriel Slonina of Addison also are on the roster. Nicholas, 18, attended Wednesday's media session. Gabriel, a 15-year-old goalkeeper, did not.

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