This week the Chicago Fire announced the acquisition of German legend Bastian Schweinsteiger. Even though the Fire had brought in other midfielders this offseason, the move made sense. Schweinsteiger, who starred for almost 15 years for Bayern Munich, has won the World Cup, the Champions League and eight Bundesliga titles.
That Chicago snapped up the 32-year-old, without having to pay a transfer fee to Manchester United, Schweinsteiger’s current team, seemed like something of a coup. That the move was met with widespread derision says more about the people heaping scorn on the move than it does about Schweinsteiger.
Major League Soccer carries a stigma as a “retirement league,” a destination for veteran players to fade away on a string of overly large paychecks. For most European commentators, MLS is little more than an English-speaking Chinese Super League — plenty of money, without much quality on the field.
The arrival of big-name European players tends to be an uncomfortable reminder to MLS fans that the critics have a point. Should those players succeed, it makes it far worse. That’s doubly true if a not-so-big-name player, like Bradley Wright-Phillips or Sebastian Giovinco, comes to America and dominates.
Many fans coming out against this move pointed out that Chicago already has two new central midfielders in Dax McCarty and Juninho. Schweinsteiger hasn’t exactly been a star the past few years, but it’s hard to argue that the two incumbents are so good that the Fire can’t find a spot for him. Schweinsteiger was once one of the best midfielders in the world. Even if he’s past his peak, his ceiling is higher than either of the other two.
In some ways, Chicago is the perfect destination for the German star. Schweinsteiger has never shied from a challenge, not even when Jose Mourinho arrived as manager at Manchester United this season and tried to humiliate Schweinsteiger into leaving of his own accord. Assigned to train with the youth team and repeatedly abused by Mourinho, Schweinsteiger carried himself with such dignity and worked so hard that eventually Mourinho had to give up and bring him back into the first-team fold.
That all might serve as good training for going to Chicago, where the Fire has been among the worst MLS teams for years, failing to dent either the upper echelon of the standings or the consciousness of most local sports fans.
It’s tempting for some fans to believe that MLS has gotten so good that Schweinsteiger might not be able to keep up. That opinion feels based more in hope than in reality. Adding a player of his caliber probably will not only be an on-field plus for the Fire; it could help revive one of the league’s most moribund franchises, a formerly successful team in a major market that has become a laughingstock. Agendas aside, having Schweinsteiger in Chicago is a positive for MLS.
• Julie Johnston is about to confuse fans who lose track of the U.S. women’s national team between major tournaments. The stalwart center back is getting married to Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz. She announced she will be using her married name, which should lead to people vaguely wondering what happened to Johnston, and who this “Ertz” is who suddenly appeared.
• So far, so good for a few American stars who are temporarily playing in Europe. Carli Lloyd scored the only goal in Manchester City’s 1-0 victory in the Women’s Champions League quarterfinals. Alex Morgan helped create one of the goals in Lyon’s 2-0 victory in the same competition.
• Sporting Kansas City forward Dom Dwyer, previously an Englishman, announced he has acquired American citizenship. While he technically would be eligible for the U.S. men’s national team, Dwyer might not make the cut on quality. Plus, given that he is perhaps the whiniest player in MLS, it would be hard to see anyone involved with U.S. Soccer really making a push for his inclusion.
WEEKEND WATCH GUIDE
MLS: Real Salt Lake at New York, 3 p.m. Saturday, UniMas. It’s a little hard to figure out what’s going on in Salt Lake City. Last offseason, owner Dell Loy Hansen gave coach Jeff Cassar a contract extension. Just three games into this season, he fired Cassar. RSL is in dire straits already, and a visit from Eastern Conference contenders New York won’t be a letup.
International: Lithuania at England, 11 a.m. Sunday, FS2. England now has manager Gareth Southgate in charge, and he marked his first game as full-time manager by accomplishing the same thing so many other England managers have done: lose to Germany (albeit in a friendly). England should have zero trouble with Lithuania in this World Cup qualifier, though.
International: Germany at Azerbaijan, 11 a.m. Sunday, ESPN2. So far, so good for Germany in this World Cup qualification cycle. The Germans have won all four games they have played, scoring 16 goals while allowing none. That said, Azerbaijan is far better at home in Baku than it is on the road. As far as travel, Baku is closer to Delhi than Berlin.
International: Poland at Montenegro, 1:45 p.m. Sunday, FS2. Montenegro is a relative newcomer to international soccer. This is only the third World Cup it has tried to qualify for. The team has already taken down Denmark, on the road, in this qualification cycle, an impressive result. Now it tries to stop Robert Lewandowski and Poland, the group favorites.