Going Dutch: Fire teammates rely on each other to ease transition

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Michael de Leeuw tries to control the ball under pressure from Cristian Higuita of Orlando City FC during an MLS match at Toyota Park last month. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Each time Fire defender Johan Kappelhof commutes from Toyota Park to his downtown residence, he is struck by the city’s skyline.

The skyscrapers are a daily reminder of how different his world is now that he plays here rather than in his native Netherlands. But Kappelhof has found comfort in having two fellow Dutchmen to help ease his transition.

The same goes for midfielder John Goossens and striker Michael de Leeuw.

“It’s more easy to find your way in the city where you’re new,” said Goossens, who is from Heem-stede, Netherlands. “It’s always good to have someone around you can talk your own language [with]. I’ve been in different countries alone, and so I really appreciate right now to have the three [Dutch] guys together.”

All three have carved out a niche in the starting lineup in their first season not only with the Fire, but in the United States. De Leeuw has three goals and three assists, Goossens has three assists and Kappelhof has been a reliable defender.

But it’s how the three have added to the club’s makeup that has impressed general manager Nelson Rodriguez most.

“What they bring to the team beyond their on-field production is just more soccer culture,” Rod-riguez said, “more of an understanding of what it means to be a pro in the locker room and off the field as much as it does on the training field and in the stadium.”

The differences between playing internationally and at the MLS level have forced Kappelhof, Goossens and de Leeuw to adjust in their own ways. De Leeuw notices how much more physical the game is here as opposed to the more technical style he played in Europe. The increased travel has been difficult on Goossens and Kappelhof, especially with young children at home.

For de Leeuw, the last of the Dutchmen to sign with the Fire, having two countrymen to help with things such as finding a place to live and navigating a new metropolitan environment softened the blow of adjusting to so many things at once.

“It was very handy because they told me about how things work,” said de Leeuw, who calls Goirle, Netherlands, home. “For me, it’s a new experience because all of my career I played in Holland. So it’s different. You can’t go to your family quick, and then there’s little things like shopping and also the language. I think my English is pretty good, but sometimes there are words I have to find.”

De Leeuw, Goossens and Kappelhof speak English when they’re around their teammates. But when the three find time together on their own — whether on the road or at home, where they meet for drinks, dinner or at an arcade where Goossens and Kappelhof take their children — a little familiarity goes a long way.

“It’s nice to two [other] Dutch players to help each other,” said Kappelhof, an Amsterdam native. “Not only on the field, but also outside the field with everything. It’s good to have them here.”

Follow me on Twitter @JeffArnold_.

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