The Chicago Fire put in a spectacular defensive performance, Nemanja Nikolic got on the board (kind of), and the Fire grinded out a win against the New York Red Bulls on Saturday afternoon. It wasn’t exactly the prettiest three points we’ve seen from the Men in Red, but this type of performance was something almost no one could see coming after the first three games of the season.
The win came on the backs of a few tactical adjustments by Veljko Paunovic and some spectacular squad player performances. (I told you we needed some mo’ Mo.) But the biggest takeaway from Saturday is that Bastian Schweinsteiger’s best position at this point in his career, and for this team, is at centerback. We need to finally buy in to this idea.
There’s been a pretty vocal opposition to seeing Schweinsteiger slide back to marshal the Fire’s defense for more than a handful of reasons. To start, the idea that a club would invest in a DP in the twilight of his career and play him out of position seems ridiculous on the surface, especially at a position where you don’t find DP’s. Look around the league, how many teams do you see building their defense around a Designated Player? Almost never.
Many of us still have the Bayern Munich Bastian Schweinsteiger in our head; the one who can completely boss a midfield, setting his team’s tempo and covering a ton of ground. He’s won just about everything there is to win by being that player-why should Fire fans expect anything different? We knew we weren’t getting prime Schweinsteiger, but we thought he could still deliver pieces of those performances in Bridgeview. We haven’t gotten that Schweinsteiger consistently enough, and certainly not when he’s been playing in the midfield.
Making the Move
Given the reluctance to have him play out of position, Basti went out and put in one of his better performances in a Fire uniform on Saturday at centerback. He certainly isn’t the player he once was but moving to the backline might maximize the parts of his game that makes him a DP quality player in the MLS; his ability to read the game, provide tactical leadership and the opportunity to step into the midfield to deliver a diagonal ball to spring the attack. It minimizes his lack of athleticism and the ground he has to cover, as he can realistically keep the game in front of him for almost the entire game.
Sliding Schweinsteiger back also removes one more number from the midfield Paunovic has to solve for moving forward. With the addition of Nico Gaitan and the emergence of Mo Adams, this team is loaded with depth in front of the backline, giving Paunovic more flexibility to shape his team week to week. One more spot freed in the midfield for another quality player could be the difference against many of the teams in this league.
I have been a part of that vocal opposition having our prized DP playing out of position, but after seeing the team shape and play on Saturday, it’s now a no-brainer. Schweinsteiger is better for it, the fans are better for it, and ultimately the club will be better for it if we can produce similar results to Saturday moving forward.