Now that the dust has settled from the 2-2 draw with Montreal, it's time to go back and dissect the new man's performance. I revisited the match, this time with my focus solely on Schweinsteiger. I looked for his movement on and off the ball, his confidence in himself and his teammates, and his reading of the game. Here’s what I found.
Schweinsteiger lined up in a left central midfield role, as part of a three-man midfield with Dax McCarty and Juninho. He spent most of the afternoon right around the halfway line, specifically on the left side. With McCarty playing a holding midfield role, it freed Schweinsteiger to stay on the front foot and concentrate on creating. It makes sense to play Bastian on the left side because he’s playing with the Fire’s best winger and best full back. Obviously, the right side can be a liability at times, but Paunovic seemingly feels that rather than hampering both sides, he’s better off making one side rock solid. Schweinsteiger also handled the in swinging corners from the left side and was fairly imaginative with his deliveries, mixing in different power and location each time.
For most of the match, the Fire played in somewhat of a 5-2-3 (or a 5-4-1) formation, with Pass DMC (not sure if that's a thing, but I'm coining it now) dropping into a center back role between Campbell and Meira, with Vincent and “the right back who shall not be named” playing as wing backs. A lot of the attacking play came from the left side of the field, with Brandon Vincent overlapping David Accam. This gave Schweinsteiger a lot of attacking outlets on his primary side of the pitch. For example, in the 7th minute, Schweinsteiger dropped deep to begin a possession, quickly distributed a ball past the halfway line to Vincent, who took one touch and pinged a pass forward to Accam, who promptly won a corner. In the 20th minute, the German once again dropped back, almost into a left back position, and seemingly out of nothing, looped a pass forward onto the outstretched boot of David Accam, who just missed Alvarez in the box for another chance. Similar chances would follow, and it should be exciting to watch that partnership on the left side develop over the next few months.
About the time the Fire started to settle into the game, Schweinsteiger struck. The Fire took a short corner, and Juninho laid off a pass for Accam to curl into the box. With the Montreal defenders a bit out of position and watching the ball, Bastian nestled into an open space behind Nikolic and Meira and put his mark on the game. The goalkeeper really had no chance to save the shot with the power unleashed by the German's formidable header. The goal definitely gave the team and him a boost as they moved forward in the first half.
There were two very questionable decisions by the linesman in the first half to call Nikolic offside; the second of these was on a pass from Schweinsteiger. DMC took a ball down from an Impact header, quickly scooted a pass onto Bastian, who played Nikolic forward, and if he wasn’t called offsides, it surely would have been a goal. This play really could have changed the complexion of the match, but regardless, it will be interesting to see if Schweinsteiger and Nikolic can form a connection moving forward.
In the second half, the Fire were too comfortable with their one goal lead, and let the Impact back into the match. Fifteen minutes into the second half, the Impact equalized. Shortly after the goal, Schweinsteiger and Nikolic pressed the Montreal defense, and created a great opportunity that Juninho hit directly at the keeper. After a sending off assessed to both sides, Schweinsteiger nearly scored on two occasions. The first was from a free kick earned by Solignac on the edge of the box. Bastian clipped the wall with his kick, but earned a corner. Then, on a delivery from the corner, Schweinsteiger turned the ball inches wide of the left post.
Physically, Schweinsteiger held up remarkably well. Schweinsteiger hadn't played a full 90 minutes since January 29th of this year when he tallied a goal and an assist against Wigan in an FA Cup match, but he picked up right where he left off and showed little sign of fatigue as the game progressed. He was still pressing late in the match, and his passes were as crisp in the final ten minutes of the game as they were early in the first half. I don’t see fitness being a problem in the future, so as long as he can stay healthy, we should see a heavy dose of the German in all matches.
Overall, Schweinsteiger had a great first match in a Fire uniform. Some things to keep in mind: this was his first match. WhoScored.com gave Schweinsteiger an 8.8 match rating, but there is reason to believe he will improve moving forward. While that match rating was aided heavily by the goal, we can expect his timing and chemistry with his teammates to improve, leading to more frequent and effective chances. On the other hand, this was a home game, and Montreal didn’t really seem up to the challenge for most of the match. There will be much harder oppositions to come, and Schweinsteiger will have to step up, but from what I saw in match 1, I have no problem believing he will.