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Francisco Calvo, Johan Kappelhof ready for partnership in center of Fire defense

Both have played other positions, but their preferred spots are in the middle, and they think their tandem could be effective this season. 

Johan Kappelhof, left, and Francisco Calvo figure to be the Fire’s central defenders this season.
Ted Bryant/Chicago Fire

Center backs Francisco Calvo and Johan Kappelhof are penciled into their favorite positions. That partnership could be a building-block for the team.

When the Fire signed right back Boris Sekulic, it likely cemented a pairing of Calvo and Kappelhof to start the March 1 opener at Seattle. Both have played other positions (left back for Calvo, right back for Kappelhof), but their preferred spots are in the middle, and they think their tandem could be effective this season.

“The chemistry is good. I know what he likes,” Kappelhof said. “We’re still working on getting to know each other even better, because last year I had just one or two games played with him as a center back. We need games. We need more games and training sessions to get to know each other even better. Right now, we’re still working and improving.

“We’re not there yet, but I think we both have good qualities to help each other out at center back positions.”

As Kappelhof alluded to, he spent most of last season at right back as Bastian Schweinsteiger paired with Marcelo (for a little while) and then Calvo after he arrived from Minnesota United. Calvo, meanwhile, began the 2019 season as Minnesota’s left back and struggled before his move to the Fire, where he established himself in the middle.

Calvo doesn’t foresee too many struggles this season playing alongside Kappelhof.

“I know how he plays. He knows how I play,” Calvo said. “Our main thing is that the other team doesn’t score as much as we can, so we are going to try to fight together and close our goal as much as possible.”

They also think they complement each other. One way is somewhat obvious, as the right-footed Kappelhof likes to play with a left-footed partner like Calvo.

There are other ways, too.

“I think he’s more a leader than I am,” Kappelhof said. “More vocal, and I think I can make a difference with defensive skills. All around, I think he has everything. He’s fast. He’s vocal. He’s good on the ball. I think we’re pretty similar players, I’d have to say. He’s comfortable on the ball. Me as well. We’re both pretty quick.”

Calvo sees things similarly. But he doesn’t discount Kappelhof’s voice.

“It’s a good mix,” Calvo said. “We play comfortably on our sides. I’m more vocal than him, but he yells to me a lot, which is good. The communication between me and him is pretty good. Defensively, he’s pretty good. He’s good in the air.”

A dependable partnership in the middle of the back line would be helpful for the Fire.

Their defensive issues were well-documented last year, but they figure to start 2020 with an experienced group of Sekulic, Kappelhof, Calvo and left back Jonathan Bornstein. Brandt Bronico should also provide depth, and young left back Miguel Angel Navarro could challenge for playing time.

Calvo wouldn’t mind if that group turned into a strength for the team.

“That’s the idea. That’s the idea,” Calvo said. “The idea is, everything is going to start from a strong defensive shape, which we are trying to work on every day.”