Manuel Veth –
It has been a long-time coming, but Bastian Schweinsteiger has finally signed a new deal with the Chicago Fire. In an open letter to the Chicago Fire fans on the club’s official homepage, Schweinsteiger wrote: “I love this city. I love this sport. And I love winning. And so, it is with great happiness that I announce my return to the Chicago Fire in 2018. I look forward to another year with my teammates, the staff and, of course, our great fans.”
When Bastian Schweinsteiger first signed for the Chicago Fire during the 2017 season, the move was quickly heralded as the most significant signing in Major League Soccer since David Beckham joined the league in 2007. Unlike Beckham, who took time until he fully embraced the league, Schweinsteiger, however, was an instant success.
The 2014 World Cup winner scored his first game and although he was not entirely in form right away became a difference maker for the Fire. His form slowly but sure came back and with his playmaking skills quickly started to dominate Chicago’s midfield creating a fantastic tandem midfield with fellow midfield pivot Dax McCarty.
It was, therefore, no surprise that Chicago also did everything in their power also to extend McCarty’s contract and a new deal and Chicago managed to extend his contract by another two years. McCarty later told the Chicago Tribune: “After taking time to reflect on the 2017 season, I’ve come away with a very clear picture of what the future looks like for the Chicago Fire,” McCarty said in a statement. “Although the year did not end how any of us would have liked, I believe we’re on course to becoming a perennial contender for trophies like Fire teams of old.”
Bastian Schweinsteiger and Dax McCarty will be critical to Chicago’s success
The McCarty and Schweinsteiger double pivot will be crucial in head coach Veljko Paunović’s approach this season. But whether the midfield tandem will be enough to fulfil Bastian Schweinsteiger’s desire to emulate David Beckham and win some silverware remains to be seen.
The Major League Soccer Eastern Conference will be hotly contested by champions Toronto FC, Atlanta United and the two New York teams the Red Bulls as well as City. Toronto have kept together an impressive squad that has now dominated the league for two years in a row. Atlanta in the meantime acquired the offseason landing highly-rated Argentine wunderkind, Ezequiel Barco.
The Argentine joins an already impressive side that includes German midfielder Julian Gressel and Paraguayan attacking midfielder Miguel Almiron. Atlanta also added striker Darlington Nagbe from Portland Timbers and Newell’s Old Boys defender Franco Escobar. With all this in mind, Atlanta could join Toronto in becoming the biggest threat to Bastian Schweinsteiger’s quest to win silverware in North America.
Given the highly ambitious competition in the Eastern Conference, Chicago Fire might have to add to the squad. Chicago Fire currently have the league’s most dangerous forward in Nemanja Nikolics, but at the same time is somewhat thin up front. On January 19, the club traded David Accam to the Philadelphia Union in exchange for $900,000 in Targeted Allocation Money and $300,000 in General Allocation Money.
“To advance the building of our championship program and our game style a bold move was required,” said Chicago Fire general manager Nelson Rodríguez. “The assets we acquired give us the opportunity to accelerate toward that goal with greater flexibility. Philadelphia got a wonderful person and a player their fans will adore. We appreciate all of David’s efforts and wish him well.”
Targeted and General Allocation Money is part of a mechanism to reduce player salaries against the cap. In general, they allow clubs to sign players new to the MLS and off-set acquisitions. They could even be used to turn designated players into non-designated players against the salary cap.
Chicago will have to add to the squad
In other words, the deal will allow the Chicago Fire to make further acquisition and bring in support for Schweinsteiger, McCarty and Nikolics. With just 21 players in the squad—including the recently drafted Diego Campos, Jon Bakero and Mo Adams—at the moment Chicago’s lineup is fragile at the moment.
General manager Nelson Rodríguez will, therefore, be busy until the beginning of the season to provide Bastian Schweinsteiger with a framework that would allow the German to lead the squad deep into the playoffs. But even with the much-needed changes made to the squad—current rumours include the signing of free agent Alan Gordon. At 36 Gordon would add further experience, but might not have the athleticism to compete against the highly competitive teams around the division.
With this in mind keep an eye on the Chicago Fire, who might very well dip into the international market to provide more depth to the squad. With owner Andrew Hauptman committed to building a title winner in Chicago, this would be the likely course of action. Chicago, of course, would have to hold the discovery rights of any international star brought in, which could make acquiring the right player difficult.
With Bastian Schweinsteiger at the club, however, going to Chicago has undoubtedly become an attractive prospect once again. Furthermore, it appears that the former German national team player is fully committed to Chicago and winning a title. Finishing his public letter he writes: “It is time to get back to work!”
Manuel Veth is the owner and Editor in Chief of the Futbolgrad Network. He also works as a freelance journalist and social media editor at Bundesliga.com. He holds a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London, and his thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States,” which will be available in print soon. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. Follow Manuel on Twitter @ManuelVeth.