In his time with the Chicago Fire, Bastian Schweinsteiger has mostly played centerback or center midfield. In his first two years he was given a lot of freedom to move around as he pleased and could seemingly choose to play a free role whenever he deemed it necessary. That hasn’t been the case this season. Whether he made the decision to stay home more often or it was a coaching decision is unclear, but he has certainly been less mobile this year.
However, the past two weeks we have seen him play with more positional freedom than earlier in the year. It isn’t a full-game tactic, but it has happened enough in the past two games that it seems like a specific decision to increase the freedom he has on the field. The main factor in this switch might be the growing stability of the back line, which requires less attention on his part to keep together.
Johan Kappelhof has been a regular, but had injury troubles in June and July, Fransisco Calvo missed time while on national team duty, Marcelo has been in and out of the lineup, and both fullback positions have been the biggest game of musical chairs on the team. Now that left back Jonathan Bornstein has come in, and Calvo and Kappelhof are available every week, there is a lot less for Schweinsteiger to oversee on the back line.
When Schweinsteiger can dictate possession the Fire are a much better team. Giving him positional freedom can allow him to move up the field and combine with the forwards and have much more control over what goes on when we have the ball. It’s nice to have him in the back line to initiate possession, but controlling the entire field is a step up from that. The Fire haven’t had trouble creating chances this year, but I think a player like Schweinsteiger pulling strings everywhere could lead to more high percentage chances.
Something that helps with this is the versatility of Calvo and Kappelhof. Both of these guys have experience playing fullback and centerback, so sliding over to cover is a really natural thing for them to do. They are also very mobile players, so making the decision to cover in a split second is an easy choice. After his debut, Jonathan Bornstein said he was surprised by the ability of Basti and Kappelhof to switch positions at will.
It should be pointed out that this isn’t a 90 minute strategy, because that would be quite risky. The past two games against DC United and the Houston Dynamo were close affairs. However, we are in make-or-break territory at this point in the season, so I expect to see more risk taking to try to make a push for the playoffs. If there’s ever a time to do this, it’s right now.