Fire

Despite All-Star hype, Real Madrid focused on its preseason

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USA TODAY

Despite All-Star hype, Real Madrid focused on its preseason

Real Madrid is one of the biggest sports brands in the world and any time they visit an American city it's a big deal.

That's how Chicago and Major League Soccer are treating Los Merengues' appearance for the MLS All-Star Game. There's plenty of events, advertising and attention given to the All-Star Game to show what a big deal it is to MLS and soccer in Chicago.

However, for Real Madrid, the two-time defending UEFA Champions League winners, this is still just the preseason. On top of that, Cristiano Ronaldo, one of the two most famous and talented soccer players in the world alongside Leo Messi, isn't with the team.

"We want to end the preseason with a victory," German midfielder Toni Kroos said in a press conference before the match on Tuesday. "It's an important game. It's the last game before the real season starts, before the games count.

"That's why we are here, to win this game tomorrow, to prepare for the next games."

Madrid hasn't yet won in the preseason. Real has lost to Manchester United on penalties in Santa Clara, Calif., got smoked by Manchester City 4-1 in Los Angeles and lost to rival Barcelona in Miami.

While the team isn't going to worry about negative results in exhibition matches, a club used to winning with regularity won't want to go without a win on its four-match U.S. tour.

"It's only preseason, that's all," manager Zinedine Zidane said through a translator. "The most important thing is to finish (the preseason) well."

While the MLS All-Stars will be playing for the pride of their league. The value of a result in an exhibition game always has questionable, at best, value. It still can provide extra exposure to the league, who now boasts a solid collection of world famous players, and may give extra attention to the Chicago Fire in a resurgent season for the team.

Fire coach Veljko Paunovic, who is also coaching the MLS All-Stars, said playing against Real Madrid is "an occasion that you just cannot let go.” For Madrid, it's still just preseason, but playing the MLS All-Stars is strange because of the thrown-together aspect of the All-Star team.

"In terms of organization, I don't know how they're going to play," Zidane said. "What I do know is they're a very good team."

As Fire near playoffs, Bastian Schweinsteiger's immediate and long-term futures are in question

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USA TODAY

As Fire near playoffs, Bastian Schweinsteiger's immediate and long-term futures are in question

Bastian Schweinsteiger has delivered on the promise of a big name star since joining the Fire in late March. He has produced on the field, drawn lots of attention to the club, the team has won enough to get into its first postseason since 2012 and, until recently, he stayed healthy.

However, the 33-year-old German has played 19 minutes in the previous six matches and told reporters on Wednesday that he will not play in the regular season finale in Houston on Sunday. He missed four straight matches with a calf injury before returning against New York City FC on Sept. 30 for a substitute appearance.

Schweinsteiger left practice early with what appeared to be a reaggravation of the injury on Oct. 4 and now it is known that will cost him at least two games. With the playoff picture still in flux (the Fire can finish anywhere from second to fifth in the Eastern Conference), the Fire could potentially face a three-day turnaround and travel after the Houston game or could have a first-round bye. Keeping Schweinsteiger fresher for that crunch of games could end up being a good thing, but it also runs the risk of his match fitness not being at 100 percent for the postseason.

Beyond the postseason, Schweinsteiger dropped this tease of a nugget to the Daily Herald's Orrin Schwarz just an hour before Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez spoke with reporters for almost an hour at Toyota Park.

Schweinsteiger, who was not at training, was autographing memorabilia in the form of soccer balls, posters and jerseys. Chicago Red Stars fans may get a kick out of the fact that Schweinsteiger was wearing a Red Stars hoodie.

Initially, the club said Schweinsteiger signed a one-year contract with a mutual option. Later in the day, when asked about Schweinsteiger's future, Rodriguez said the mutual option doesn't have a set number attached to it.

"That would require a negotiation," Rodriguez said. "It was mutual in a sense of we didn’t want either party to feel bound without having had the year of experience to draw on. From our perspective, our experience has been extraordinarily positive with Bastian. We think he’s delivered across all of our expectations and we hope that we have delivered against his expectations.”

So in essence, there is no mutual option. Schweinsteiger and the Fire have to come to terms again on a deal for the German to return in 2018. That's not to say Schweinsteiger can't come back, but there's nothing in writing that binds the two together for next season.

Rodriguez said talks have only begun in the very preliminary stages at this point.

“The most that Basti and I have done is, both said, hey this has gone pretty well." Rodriguez said. "You like it. I like it... So I think we want to remain with our original plan. It was to look to have the hard discussions at the end of the season. My view is in-season negotiations always prove to be a distraction, whether to the player or to me. There can be a team element if it becomes public.

"I don’t want to speak for Basti, but from what we’ve gleaned and what he shared with us, he and (wife) Ana (Ivanovic) are very comfortable in the city. They love it. I think he’s really enjoyed the locker room, the guys, the support of the fans. I think he’s really taken to the challenge of Major League Soccer. I think the signs are positive, but again we would prefer to have the season close before finalizing anything.”

Special edition of the Fire Talk Podcast: What’s wrong with U.S. Soccer?

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AP

Special edition of the Fire Talk Podcast: What’s wrong with U.S. Soccer?

It's a special edition of the Fire Talk Podcast!

Dan Santaromita, Justin O’Neil, JJ Stankevitz and Tom Cooper try to answer all the questions that surfaced after the U.S. failed to qualify for the World Cup. What went wrong in qualifying, who was at fault, what can be fixed, will things get better? Has any American soccer fan calmed down even a week after? The four on the panel sure still are plenty fired up.