The MLS Cup playoffs have reached the Conference Finals, but that has not stopped the off-season rumors from starting up in a major way. Chicago Fire head coach Veljko Paunovic met with Manchester United midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger during the past weekend about the German legend joining up with his side when the International transfer window opens in January.
Schweinsteiger would bring one of the finest resumes in World Football to the United States and improve the Chicago squad in an incredible manner. The Fire finished the 2016 MLS regular season at the bottom of the league standings, posting a 7-10-17 record and missing the final Eastern Conference playoff spot by 11 points.
One of the finest defensive midfielders ever produced in Germany, Schweinsteiger played 13 seasons with Bundesliga powerhouse Bayern Munich after coming through their famed youth development system. Eight league titles, seven DFB-Pokal trophies and a UEFA Champions League triumph in 2013 helped to cement his legacy as one of Europe’s best.
“Schweini” helped lead the German National Team in winning the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil and appeared in three World Cup tournaments overall. His vision, defensive positioning, passing and quality touch on the ball can produce results on both sides of the field.
But since arriving at Manchester United last summer, Schweinsteiger has struggled to regain the form he once displayed. Injuries have certainly played their part and affected much of his first year at Old Trafford. However, with manager Jose Mourinho unwilling to use the German midfielder in seemingly any capacity, a change of scenery in January is needed. Schweinsteiger has not made any appearances for Manchester United this season.
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Midfielders like Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard will both be moving on from MLS this winter, but Schweinsteiger now at full fitness can have a bigger impact on Chicago than either player did on NYCFC or the Los Angeles Galaxy.
Command the midfield
The Chicago Fire endured a difficult campaign in 2016, but there is talent within the squad. Young defenders like Matt Polster and Brandon Vincent continue to develop, while US national team goalkeeper Sean Johnson is one of the league’s most talented at his position. Forward David Accam brings incredible acceleration and speed to the Fire attack, scoring nine goals and adding five assists this past season.
A midfielder like Bastian Schweinsteiger could bring these pieces together effective and quickly.
His defensive work in front of the backline would improve the defense tremendously. At the other end, his passing and scoring touch would lead to a drastically improved attack for Chicago in 2017.
Few individuals anywhere in the sport command respect like Bastian Schweinsteiger. His excellent leadership would pay massive dividends to a young and evolving Chicago club.
Schweinsteiger’s knowledge of the game and experience at the highest levels would stand to benefit everyone on the roster.
While age could certainly be a concern at 32 years old, Schweinsteiger will still be able to produce. Compared to Lampard (38) and Gerrard (36), there is still time for the German midfielder to have a strong influence in the Windy City.
The Chicago Fire have been a largely irrelevant team both nationally and locally during the past decade. A Supporters’ Shield, an MLS Cup title and four US Open Cups all during their first ten years have been washed out recently by poor performances within a crowded sports market.
The Fire have qualified for the playoffs just once in the last seven seasons. Average attendance at Toyota Park in Bridgeview this year just crossed the 15k mark (15,602), although many games featured much less than that figure.
Essentially, the Fire need a reason for both Chicago fans and MLS viewers to pay attention. Bastian Schweinsteiger may do just that by signing on. But it will be the German’s incredible play that will make the team as a whole worth watching in the near future.