Bastian Schweinsteiger came, saw and scored. It was not quite the first step towards Chicago Fire winning their first ever World Cup, but at the same time it capped off a massive week for the German World Cup winner.
The effect of his Major League Soccer debut against the Montreal Impact was instant. It was indeed the kind of story that could only be produced in America. A disgraced World Cup hero, who was treated like surplus by his former club Manchester United, completes a deal that sees him move to the United States, gets a heroes welcome, and then scores.
Perhaps the only hitch in Schweinsteiger’s first week in Major League Soccer was the question by an Associated Press journalist on whether his signing would “provide Chicago with a clear path to a World Cup.” Schweinsteiger was briefly confused about the question, perhaps wondering whether his English was not as good as he thought.
The incident provided some laughs around the world. Chicago Fire, and Schweinsteiger were quick to capitalize on this blunder.
The following day Chicago Fire tweeted out a picture of Schweinsteiger training, and the hashtag #RoadtoRussia—the tweet was sadly taken down later, but we found a copy online anyways.
Chicago Fire were not the only ones who jumped on the #RoadtoRussia slogan. Fire fans could be seen before the match against Montreal holding up signs in stylised Cyrillic writing that displayed the slogan Road to Russia.
— Isolated Jiggly (Day 162) (@Jiggly_333) April 1, 2017
Schweinsteiger in the meantime took the confusing question with real class. At first he blamed his English language skills, which are impeccable, and then politely circumnavigating the question by talking about his ambitions with Chicago Fire instead.
The same was true when he, rather than his head coach Veljko Paunović, was asked if he was going to play on Saturday. Pointing at his head coach he said “it is not up to me, I am not the coach.” Paunović diplomatically told the press that he was not going to reveal his game plan.
There was, however, no doubt from the press that Schweinsteiger would be starting. But before Schweinsteiger could wear the red Fire shirt he had to fulfil his new role as the face of Major League Soccer.
A midweek visit to the Chicago Bulls with his wife Ana Ivanović–Schweinsteiger is a big basketball fan, and even celebrated his goals at Bayern with a throwing motion in order to honour Bayern’s basketball team–was followed with Chicago White Sox coaxing the world champion to follow them rather than the Chicago Cubs.
Schweinsteiger’s transfer was probably the most hype produced by MLS since David Beckham arrived in the United States ten years ago.
Indeed there were questions about how Chicago would use Schweinsteiger. The club had signed Juninho, and Dax McCarty to anchor the midfield. Would Schweinsteiger’s arrival mean that one of the two would end up on the bench? The answer was no. On paper Schweinsteiger was slotted to the left of McCarty and Juninho in a 4-3-3 formation, but ultimately played right behind the forward line.
In his debut, Schweinsteiger’s presence on the field was remarkable. Despite this being his first game with the Fire, Schweinsteiger showed good chemistry with McCarty, and Juninho, who provided him with the space that allowed him to make runs in the shadow of Nemanja Nikolić, Arturo Álvarez, and David Accam.
Schweinsteiger’s addition will certainly help Chicago move forward, both on and off the field. Ultimately there is still work for the Chicago Fire. Montreal managed to equalize the game when Matteo Mancuso headed home a cross from the right wing. Chicago then lost Juninho on a red card.
It was at this point that Chicago needed Schweinsteiger’s leadership the most. The world champion came up with a wonderful pass that saw Luis Solignac pull away from Montreal’s defence and Victor Cabrera could only help himself with a professional foul, and was sent off.
The sending off levelled the playing field again, and Schweinsteiger stepped up his playmaking game by seeking out Solignac over and over again, but the Argentine forward could not find an opening in Montreal’s defence. Everything pointed towards a Hollywood ending.
But it was not meant to be. Montreal’s Canadian youth prospect Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla, who made his MLS first team debut would hammer home what appeared to be the winner for Montreal from 18 yards out. Shortly after Solignac equalized with a wonderful effort from outside the box, however, salvaging a draw for the Fire.
It may not have been a fairy tale ending for Schweinsteiger, and Chicago Fire. The game, and last week’s events, however, showed that there is still plenty to come, and that Schweinsteiger can make a major contribution in this league.