It’s safe to say that we’re all still nursing a hangover after the Chicago Fire crashed and burned out of the 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs. Their 4-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls was a disappointing way to end what has otherwise been the Fire’s best season in years.
There are undoubtedly questions that will need to be answered by the club as they try to chart a path through the offseason and into the 2018 campaign. The Fire have, at the very least, something solid to work with as far as building a roster for next year goes. They have a strong midfield, the defending Golden Boot champion, and some promising young players coming up in Djordie Mihailovic and Drew Conner.
But one big question hangs over Toyota Park like the pall of a dismal November night: will marquee player Bastian Schweinsteiger return in 2018. And in postmatch comments to the press, Fire head coach Veljko Paunovic was circumspect about the World Cup champion’s place in next year’s squad.
“I think this is the moment where we don’t have to talk about these things,” Paunovic said. “Obviously we want Bastian back, we want to have a man and a player like him on and off the field, but this is not even a question for me -- it’s more for Nelson Rodriguez, and I think he already responded, so I’m just going to say the same.”
For his part, Schweinsteiger stuck to a similar script in the locker room following the game.
“As Nelson Rodriguez said, we are in talks, we will see how it is, the same with every player here,” Schweinsteiger said.
All this comes after the former Bayern Munich player admitted that few clubs are in demand for his services, and that at 33 years old this may be the end of the line for his career. There are also unsubstantiated rumors that the Fire are trying to lowball Schweinsteiger in early contract talks, furthering the possibility that no 2018 deal will materialize.
Obviously this is a major decision and the Fire have to get it right if they don’t want the 2017 season to be a fluke.
Circling back to Paunovic, the manager also took full responsibility for the result last night.
“But not because of a lack of preparation," Paunovic said. “We ran like hell today. Not because of the lack of talent; we are all proud of our guys. We are so, so happy with the talent that we have, and we are proud and grateful to our guys for the effort they did the whole season. [...] It’s my fault. Obviously, it’s my fault.”