Quite a few times over the last three seasons, sitting there in the cold, or the rain, in a sparse Bridgeview crowd, I sat there in disbelief and just stared at Bastian Schweinsteiger.
I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe Basti was here. He’s the same guy who beat Brazil 7-1 in 2014 and went on to win the World Cup against Lionel Messi’s Argentina. He’s the same guy who regularly played before crowds of 70,000 at the Allianz Arena in Munich. He was—literally—one of the most famous footballers on the planet.
And somehow, a few years after lifting the Champions League trophy for Bayern Munich, Schweinsteiger was playing center back 50 yards from me while I shared ice cream nachos with my wife and kids in a small stadium surrounded by gravel in a random Chicago suburb.
Part of me actually felt guilty about this, especially when the Fire were struggling. But, when everything else around the team was a mess, he was there for us.
Basti’s gone now. And as the Fire are starting to put the finishing touches on their 2020 roster, it makes me wonder—do they need another famous soccer player?
I wanted the team to sign Chicharito, because I saw him as one of the few celebrity players who could both sell a ton of tickets, and actually help the Fire win. As I reported last month, the Fire had turned their attention away from another famous player—El Tri’s Rodolfo Pizarro—and it appears he’s now signing with David Beckham and Inter Miami.
Some fans are mad the Fire “missed” Pizarro. Others are fine moving on without him.
If you were around for the Cuauhtemoc Blanco years, you know star power matters to some degree. Back then, every home game at Toyota Park was a party. But, the team was actually pretty good, and while Blanco was old, he still delivered on the field. As a USMNT supporter, I went from actively hating the guy to absolutely loving him.
Which leads me to this: It’s fun when the Fire sign big names, and having them around does seem to give the atmosphere a boost. But, if the team doesn’t win, does it really matter?
Borussia Dortmund Sporting Director Michael Zorc once said “we don’t buy star players, we make them.” That seems to be the approach of new Fire Sporting Director Georg Heitz, as well. Strengthen the academy. Sign young players with potential, and give them a place to grow.
If the Dejan Ljubicic deal gets over the finish line, he could be the perfect test of this approach. Maybe the Fire aren’t going to sign a super-famous, star player for 2020, after all.
Maybe they’re going to create one.