If there was a year-end award handed out to the CPL’s best defender, Daniel Krutzen might have taken home the honour in 2019.
A 23-year-old native of Lanaken, Belgium, Krutzen was one of the CPL’s breakout stars during its inaugural season, quarterbacking a solid Forge FC defence and playing a key role in helping the Hamilton-based club win the North Star Shield.
The Belgian won plaudits for his classy and consistent play in the CPL last year – his first as a professional – after cutting his teeth in the USL’s Premier Development League.
Winning another North Star Shield with Forge in 2020 is a top priority for Krutzen, but right now those ambitions are on hold. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic delayed the start of the new season, which was scheduled to begin on April 11, leaving the Belgian defender to stay in shape on his own during this strenuous period of self-isolation.
Krutzen chatted one-on-one with CanPL.ca on a variety of topics, including his time at the Genk youth academy, moving to the United States as a teenager, the upcoming season with Forge, and his future goals.
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How are you holding up during the current COVID-19 pandemic? What has this period of self-isolation been like for you?
Daniel Krutzen: It’s tough not being able to play for the team, not being able to see the guys on a daily basis. The worst part for me is I just miss football. I miss being out there, kicking the ball around and doing what I love. This whole situation has taken that away from me, so that’s something I think about every day. On the other hand, I try to stay fit and live for the moment when football starts up again. We have an individual (training) program each day that we’re supposed to complete to stay fit. We have these GPS trackers that we wear that sends the data every day, so that the coaches can see what we’re doing.
After playing NCAA soccer and in the PDL, you turned pro last year and logged 2,000 minutes for Forge in the CPL, and you played a starring role for the club as it hoisted the North Star Shield. Coming into the 2019 season, did you anticipate playing such a big role for Forge?
Krutzen: I have to be honest, not really. When I first came in (with Forge), it was really my first year as a pro, and I didn’t know what the quality of the CPL was going to be like. I came in for a trial for a week and I saw some of the players signed, and I was encouraged about the quality. I knew I had to work hard to get a spot on the team, and as pre-season went on and on, I got more confident and I started to play better and better. Honestly, I’m very grateful for all the minutes I got last season. If I look back at it now, I didn’t expect to play such a big role and that many minutes, but I appreciate what we accomplished as a group that first year.
What are your expectations for 2020, both of yourself and of Forge, when the season starts up again?
Krutzen: For Forge, we realize what other teams are capable of, and being the league champions, those teams are going to look at us and are gunning for us. It adds an element to our game, and I think we’re up for the challenge when the season starts, and I expect that we’ll be one of the better teams in the league this year. For myself, I want to play as many minutes as possible. It’s still early in my career, and I want to continue to grow, and playing as much as I can will help that.
Tristan Borges moved from Forge this off-season and signed with OH Leuven in Belgium’s second division. Have you started to think about possibly moving on? Has any club from outside the CPL made any inquiries about signing you?
Krutzen: Nothing concrete, no. I do have that ambition for myself to play at a higher level. It wasn’t something I thought about at the beginning of last season. After the kind of season I had, it’s started to creep into my thoughts. There’s bigger leagues in the world, and as long as you stand out and fit in well with your current team the greater opportunities will come and you can push yourself to a higher level. That’s definitely one of my aspirations for this year and next year.
You graduated from one of the top youth academies in Europe at Belgian club Genk – the same academy that produced Kevin De Bruyne, Christian Benteke, Thibaut Courtois and many other notable players. How did your experiences at Genk academy set you up for success at Forge?
Krutzen: I started at Genk when I was six or seven, and I played there until I was 18 or 19. As one of the top academies in Europe, you learn a solid good base of the game, and there are so many people there to support you as you go up the system. There are so many coaches and support staff that support you and know what’s best for you in the long run overall. I’ve very grateful to have had the opportunity to be a part of that academy for so long. It’s pretty rare to be in an academy like that for so long, and I was very lucky. Those years at Genk were the base for what I’ve accomplished at Forge.
As a teenager, you left Genk and came to the United States to attend school and play NCAA soccer for the University of Albany in New York. That’s quite a shift in direction. What led you to take that decision?
Krutzen: Whew, it’s a pretty long story. [laughs] To make it short, I just felt that I was ready for something new – a new soccer experience, a new life experience. The idea came to me through one of my old assistant coaches at Genk, and it was something that I was quite interested in. I did a lot of research and talked to people who helped me along the way, and when the opportunity came, I wanted to take the jump and see what happened. It was a pretty big gamble at that time, but I don’t regret making that decision at all.
CPL Rewind: The best of Forge FC defender Daniel Krutzen from the 2019 season.
Were you surprised about not being selected in the 2019 MLS SuperDraft?
Krutzen: Yes and no. At the start of my journey in the States it was a goal of mine to get into MLS. I had a great first and second season at Albany that I thought set me up to get picked, and I played in the PDL over the summers with two of the best clubs in the PDL (Reading United and FC Tucson), and I did very well with both of them. But at the same time, my senior year at Albany I only played half the games and then I got injured, and the team performances weren’t great. So, I still hoped to get drafted but I kind of expected it wouldn’t because of my senior year.
What did you learn from your time with Tucson and Reading in the PDL?
Krutzen: Those two summers were the two best of my life to be honest with you. When I think about that time period in my life, I really appreciate it because there are so many guys in that league who are now in MLS. It’s fun to see, and I’m still in touch with some them; guys like Kamal Miller (a teammate at Reading). It’s nice to see what they can do in MLS, and I hope to join them one day.
Canadian international David Edgar joined Forge last summer, so you only managed to play half a season with him. But what did you manage to learn from a veteran such as him, even in such a short period of time?
Krutzen: Oh man, a lot. When you see someone like that is coming into your team, it’s very impressive. He’s a veteran with experience in the Premier League and with the Canadian national team, and I was a first-year pro, so I knew I was going to learn from him, and when he says something, you have to listen and hear what he says. He’s one of those guys that makes others around him better. I tried to learn as much as I could from him, and he helped me grow as a player.
Other than Borges and a few other players, Forge coach Bobby Smyrniotis has managed to keep intact the core of last season’s championship team. Having all of these guys back, is there a sense within the team that it can repeat as CPL champions?
Krutzen: When we got back into training camp last month, that first day was so natural and normal because we all knew each other from last year. We’d gone through so much already, so we didn’t have to start over, but rather keep it going and pick up where we left off. We have an advantage with that because if you look at the other teams in the league, they’ve shifted a lot of players out. We haven’t don’t that. So, there’s a feeling that we can definitely do it again with the group we have now.