Fire

Fire sign Bastian Schweinsteiger from Manchester United

Fire sign Bastian Schweinsteiger from Manchester United

Rumors about Bastian Schweinsteiger have been swirling for months, but the move is finally happening.

Schweinsteiger is coming to the Fire as a designated player. The Chicago Tribune first reported the move.

The 32-year-old German was on Germany's 2014 World Cup winning team and has 121 caps and 24 goals for the national team before retiring from the national team in August.

"Throughout my career, I've always sought opportunities where I hoped to make a positive impact and to help make something great. My move to Chicago Fire is no different," Schweinsteiger said. "Through my conversations with Nelson and Pauno, I'm convinced by the club's vision and philosophy and I want to help them with this project."

He brings a ton of experience and a resume filled with success at every level. The concern now is how healthy he can be. Schweinsteiger hasn't played as much with Manchester United and suffered a knee injury late last season and he hasn't had consistent playing time since.

He played in 18 Premier League matches last season, but seemed to have lost his spot under manager Jose Mourinho. This season he has only appeared in cup matches. In four appearances this season he scored one goal.

Schweinsteiger spent almost all of his previous club career with Bayern Munich. He played more than 300 career games with the German giants, winning eight Bundesliga titles and a Champions League in 2013. He joined Manchester United in July of 2015.

His contract is a one-year deal and the Tribune it is worth $4.5 million with a mutual option for another year.

Schweinsteiger was seen meeting with Fire coach Veljko Paunovic in Manchester in November. The move didn't in the MLS offseason, but the Fire were finally able to secure the deal.

"Having the strongest possible midfield is essential for how we want to play," Paunovic said. "We see Bastian helping our organization of the attack, and impacting the final third build-up with his vision and creativity to produce the final pass, as well as his capacity to score goals. His versatility on the field, and his immense experience at the highest levels of this sport will be a great benefit to our team."

Schweinsteiger is a central midfielder, which makes for some tough decisions ahead for Paunovic. Two of the Fire's three notable offseason acquisitions, U.S. national teamer Dax McCarty and Brazilian Juninho, are both central midfielders. Schweinsteiger typically plays higher up the field than those two, but finding a way to get all three on the field together will require some creativity.

One option would be for Paunovic to go for a 3-5-2 formation with three center mids, something Paunovic tried a few times last season. Another option would be to play Schweinsteiger as an attacking midfielder and see if he can be a playmaker in MLS.

Regardless of the fit, the Fire added a big name player with a top tier resume for the first time since Mexican legend Cuauhtemoc Blanco played for the Fire from 2007-2009.

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.