After what felt like years of reports and rumors, Bastian Schweinsteiger has finally joined the Chicago Fire. It’s a move long in the making, one that finally sees one of the league’s premier franchises make a push towards something big.
Still, one question remains, and it’s a big one: now what?
The Schweinsteiger move answered plenty of old questions but created a major new one in the process. It’s a move that’s sure to excite and unite fans, at least for the time being, but it remains to be seen just how this gigantic piece fits in the current Fire puzzle.
On the surface, which really means off the field, it’s easy to see where this move makes sense. For years, the Fire have lagged behind the rest of MLS when it came to roster construction, and their place in the yearly standings certainly showed it. This offseason saw a new commitment towards bringing in bigger and better, from the likes of star forward Nemanja Nikolic to MLS Cup winner Juninho to longtime MLS star Dax McCarty.
The Schweinsteiger move shows a clear move into MLS 2.0, an era headlined by bigger spending and better players. However, as MLS teams move into a newer era, one featuring younger, more dynamic additions, Schweinsteiger can’t just be a name to print on pamphlets and advertisements. The league has gotten more technical and astronomically faster, and Schweinsteiger will need to make the move work on the field to make everything worthwhile. Teams can’t afford to run with figurehead Designated Players anymore and, luckily for the Fire, it seems that Schweinsteiger still has the game to make it work.
His time at Manchester United fell well below expectations, but when he was on the field, it’s hard to say anything bad about how his game held up. Featuring in mostly cup matches, Schweinsteiger was, at times, one of the best players on the field for Man United when he was fortunate enough to play. No matter how you rate MLS, any player from Manchester United would walk into any side’s starting XI, and saying Schweinsteiger isn’t MLS quality anymore is nonsense. He just featured for one of the world’s biggest teams. He’ll be fine.
Who knows what he could have done with more in Manchester, but the Fire are about to find out.
He’s here, and he’s ready to go, so now it’s about integration. Does the signing fill a need on the field? Not really. Dax McCarty and Juninho are top-level MLS central midfielders, while youngster Matt Polster waits in the wings with an injury. Relegating Polster to depth could hinder his development, although this could signal a move to right back, a position that remains a focal point for the club.
Somehow, the Fire will need to work McCarty, Schweinsteiger and Juninho into the same midfield. The eye test shows that the trio are far from the most attacking bunch, although one will need to show the ability to get forward. All things considered, that one is likely Juninho, allowing McCarty to play destroyer while Schweinsteiger serves as a deep-lying playmaker.
With that in mind, the Fire can go with a 4-3-3 featuring that trio in the middle. Nikolic retains the starting striker role with David Accam and Michael de Leeuw on either side of him. It’s not a natural spot for de Leeuw, but it’s one that may have to work given the wealth of central options.
If head coach Veljko Paunovic is feeling extra ambitious, the Fire could go with three-at-the-back, leaving room for more in the midfield and less at the notably weak fullback spots. The move gets centerbacks Jonathan Campbell, Joao Meira and Johan Kappelhof on the field while allowing the midfield trio to clog the center of the field in front of them. Brandon Vincent can be pushed up to a wing back role alongside the speedy Accam, allowing De Leeuw to play as a more natural second striker alongside Nikolic. Is it a bit far-fetched? Possibly, but it could be an interesting look.
With all of that in mind, Schweinsteiger’s move will almost certainly be a success for a club in need of some sort of positive headlines. After years of toiling away in relative irrelevancy on both the local and national scale, the Fire finally made their move, bringing in a player widely regarded as one of the best players and leaders of a generation. Toyota Park is almost certain to receive an attendance spike as eyes now turn towards Schweinsteiger’s MLS impact.
The Fire will hope those eyes then see what is now a new-look Fire squad, one with newer and better faces scattered throughout the field. Last week’s thumping against Atlanta United showed there’s work to be done, but the Fire are certainly a team better equipped to compete now than any time in the past five years.
Schweinsteiger will be vital to that when he does step on the field and, if the club and German star can make it work, the Fire could finally seal a much-needed return to relevancy.