Preseason soccer can be boring to watch sometimes. Players are just getting back from vacation and still trying to shake off some rust. Teams are full of new players: trialists, draft picks, or big money signings. The Fire have been no different this preseason, with two especially dull 0-0 draws against Philly and Nashville. Anyone who was watching yesterday’s match versus Nashville was crying out for someone or something to grab their attention.
Thankfully for Chicago Fire fans, Bastian Schweinsteiger was that spark that shed some light on yesterday’s game.
The German had yet to feature in preseason, and there was speculation that he wouldn’t feature in any preseason games until the final warm up match vs Tulsa a week before the season opener. There were fears that he had picked up some sort of shin injury. Some of those fears must have been eased yesterday as Fire head coach Veljko Paunovic gave Basti a run out in the second half, playing him the full 45 in a team mostly made up of Fire starters.
Simply put, it was an absolute joy to watch Schweinsteiger. There were stretches of time during the Nashville scrimmage where it looked like was playing against high schoolers. He was calm on the ball, the orchestrator of every Fire attack. Nashville defenders couldn’t get the ball off him. Everytime they got close, Basti would pull out a quick turn to get clear of his marker, and take advantage of the open space.
The highlight came when he nutmegged a hapless Nashville player with an exquisite scoop turn. Schweinsteiger even showed his leadership qualities, dummying a free kick to allow unsigned Superdraft player Diego Campos a chance to grab another preseason goal. The final part of his masterclass performance came when Basti played a beautiful switch ball across the field from the halfway line to set up one last Fire attack.
It was a performance that reminded fans just how important Schweinsteiger is to this Fire team. Last season, it seemed like Chicago were a completely different team without Bastian on the field. The offense looked stagnant, and the midfield lacked creativity. The German was forced to miss the end of the season through nagging injuries, having to come off the bench in the playoff loss to the Red Bulls. By the time he was able to come in, however, it was too late, as the Fire had already conceded twice and had no hope of tying up the contest.
For 2018, Paunovic will have to make sure he can get the most out of Schweinsteiger. A player of his age needs all the recovery time he can get, so Pauno should avoid playing the German in any midweek matchups. Don’t let Bastian anywhere near the Open Cup unless Chicago gets to the semifinals. Once De Leeuw and Djordje are able to return, the Fire should have enough depth in the middle of the park, with Mo Adams and Drew Conner both able to come in if need be.
There are still question marks over how long Basti’s aging body will be able to hold out and how the team will manage his involvement. But for anyone who doubted whether Schweinsteiger can still contribute to this team or whether he’s still important to the squad, here is your answer.