Fire

After always being on dominant teams, Bastian Schweinsteiger is adjusting to the parity of MLS

After always being on dominant teams, Bastian Schweinsteiger is adjusting to the parity of MLS

Parity is one of the defining characteristics of Major League Soccer, but Bastian Schweinsteiger's former teams knew nothing of parity.

Before joining the Chicago Fire, Bastian Schweinsteiger had only played for the biggest teams in the world. In his club career he started with Bayern Munich and later joined Manchester United. Both are in the top handful of clubs in terms of success, prestige and popularity. Throw in the German national team, which has made the last three semifinals in both the Euros and the World Cup, and Schweinsteiger is used to winning.

So now that Schweinsteiger is with the Fire in MLS, a league which doesn’t have any teams as dominant or as consistent as Bayern or Germany, it’s an adjustment in terms of expectations.

“Of course it’s something maybe new, but I knew it in advance that it’s not going to happen that we win every match,” Schweinsteiger said after training on Tuesday. “It’s a new team. We have to just work on our game style.”

Schweinsteiger was recently quoted as saying the difference in quality between MLS and his previous leagues is “huge.” That won’t surprise anyone familiar with MLS, but some of the quotes do standout.

“It can be frustrating on the pitch at times when things discussed [in the team meeting] are not implemented or when somebody loses a ball or just does not have an eye for the teammate,” Schweinsteiger said in the story on ESPNFC.

Schweinsteiger also said “too many balls are lost” during games. These statements have garnered national, and even global, headlines.

That may be worth fretting over if the statements weren’t universally agreed upon as accurate. MLS is not as good as the Premier League or the Bundesliga and the Fire are not Bayern Munich or Manchester United.

There is no cause for concern that Schweinsteiger is regretting his move or is causing a rift with his teammates. He says he is enjoying his new home and his new team. Fire midfielder Dax McCarty said on Tuesday that Schweinsteiger has “raised the level of our team significantly.”

Coach Veljko Paunovic has often talked about the character that Schweinsteiger brings to the team and said he wants Schweinsteiger to be a role model for the team.

“It’s very important to have the model, the player, the champion that can also help the team on and off the field where he can influence the guys with his work ethic, with his commitment, his experience obviously and charisma that he has,” Paunovic said. “He’s a very charismatic guy and the smile, he is coming everyday with a smile to the practice and that gives the positive impact on the locker room and we also know that it’s not always just smiling, it’s (working) hard.”

The Fire went winless on a three-game road trip, finally getting a point in a draw at LA on Saturday. Schweinsteiger hasn’t had many three game winless runs in his career, but odds are he will see more this season.

“I would love to win matches, but last year I think Seattle around the first half of matches they were not so good and in the end they won,” Schweinsteiger said on Tuesday. “So it is possible, right? Our position is OK. I think of course we could have won against Montreal or LA so then it would be a little bit different. We are looking from match to match. I think that this is more important to focus on our game. It’s more important for me and when we work on our deficiencies, things which we are not doing well, when we work on that we will play better and have more victories and it will automatically come that we will be higher in the standings.”

Fire rumored to be connected to former Real Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas

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AP

Fire rumored to be connected to former Real Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas

They don’t call it silly season in Europe for nothing.

The offseason rumors that pop up and, in some cases, happen make for good entertainment around the world of soccer. Sometimes those rumors are connected to MLS, whether or not the chances of them coming to fruition are high.

The latest example of this is Steven Goff of the Washington Post tweeting out a juicy rumor involving the Chicago Fire and former Real Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas.

Goff doesn’t sound very confident in it happening and there are plenty of reasons why, but there are also reasons why it could make sense. In this case, it makes sense for Casillas to be looking for a home to continue his career. When his contract at FC Porto expires at the end of this European season in June, he will be 37 years old.

It’s been two and a half years since he left Real Madrid, where he spent the rest of his career, and he’s not the elite goalkeeper he once was. If Casillas wants to keep playing he may not be able to stick at a Champions League club like Porto, and that’s where the MLS rumors come into play. It makes sense for Casillas to have interest in joining MLS.

On the Fire’s end, the team isn’t loaded at goalkeeper, although there are three keeprs under contract (Matt Lampson, Jorge Bava, Stefan Cleveland) with the possibility of a fourth (Richard Sanchez) also returning. The numbers logjam could be rectified without much problem if the Fire have a chance to snag Casillas.

His experience as a World Cup and Champions League winner (like Bastian Schweinsteiger), would be a nice addition to the team, regardless of age. Casillas was one of the best goalkeepers in the world and won Spain's La Liga five times and the Champions League three times in addition to winning the 2010 World Cup.

The question from the Fire’s perspective is if he could justify the high cost he would likely come with. Goalkeepers aren’t often highly paid players in MLS with the way the salary cap works. More flexibility has been added with more and more resources being given to teams from the league, but the cost of a player like Casillas may be difficult to justify at goalkeeper, even if he would provide another marketing and attendance boost like Schweinsteiger did.

This rumor makes for a good headline, but may not have much basis in reality. Still, there's a decent chance Casillas' name will continue to be connected with a move to MLS until he signs his next deal.

Fire's protected list for expansion draft hints at possible moves

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USA TODAY

Fire's protected list for expansion draft hints at possible moves

The MLS offseason doesn't take long to get in gear.

The Fire traded Arturo Alvarez earlier on Sunday, the same day which the list of protected players was to be announced ahead of Tuesday's expansion draft for Los Angeles FC.

LAFC will take five players in the expansion draft, which is set for 1 p.m. on Tuesday. A team can only lose one player. Each team can protect 11 players and homegrown players aren't eligible for selection. For the Fire that means Drew Conner and Djordje Mihailovic can't be taken.

The Fire protected David Accam, Jonathan Campbell, Johan Kappelhof, Dax McCarty, Nemanja Nikolic, Juninho, Matt Polster, Richard Sanchez, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Luis Solignac and Brandon Vincent.

While Sanchez and Schweinsteiger are out of contract, the Fire have said they are negotiating with both players. Protecting Juninho is a bit of a surprise because it implies that the Fire have some intention of keeping him for next year, or at least keeping his rights to be traded.

The Fire left David Arshakyan, Jorge Bava, Brandt Bronico, Stefan Cleveland, Jorge Corrales, Michael de Leeuw, Christian Dean, Daniel Johnson and Matt Lampson unprotected. De Leeuw would be a worthwhile pickup for LA if it thinks he is worth it after his ACL tear suffered late in the season.

With only five players being selected it's fairly likely no Fire players are taken by LAFC, but it's arguable that de Leeuw will end up being one of the best five players available. The 31-year-old tied for the team lead with eight assists and scored three goals.