Fire

Notes from the rewatch: Bastian Schweinsteiger plays a new role

Notes from the rewatch: Bastian Schweinsteiger plays a new role

Bastian Schweinsteiger has been a key, calming influence in the Chicago Fire's midfield this season.

However, on Saturday he spent most of his time in a different position. Schweinsteiger played as a defender in an old-school German-style sweeper role to help the Fire hand the New England Revolution a first home loss of 2017.

Here's a look at what that did for the Fire, how New England adjusted and all the incredible chances the Revolution failed to put away.

Schweinsteiger the sweeper

The Fire's announced tactical set up before the game didn't give anything away regarding Schweinsteiger's new role. With David Accam sitting out, Juninho entered the midfield in a what appeared to be a more traditional 4-3-3 formation with Luis Solignac and Michael de Leeuw flanking Nemanja Nikolic up top.

It played out that way for about six minutes. Schweinsteiger was the right center midfielder with Dax McCarty playing more on the left and Juninho centrally.

In the seventh minute Schweinsteiger dropped between centerbacks Joao Meira and Johan Kappelhof in what ended up being one of the more creative and clever ways coach Veljko Paunovic has tried to play the midfield trio of Schweinsteiger, McCarty and Juninho at the same time. The Fire have looked more comfortable with two players in central midfield this season as opposed to all three. Saturday was the first time all three started since the May 6 game at LA.

The Fire entered with a 1-2-2 record when all three start and are 6-0-1 when Schweinsteiger starts with only one of McCarty or Juninho.

By moving Schweinsteiger back, Paunovic freed up his best player to have plenty of the ball in the build up and removed any awkward clogging in central midfield. Defensively, the German spent a lot of time sticking close to big New England striker Kei Kamara, and helped limit him for the most part.

With Schweinsteiger at the point of every build up, the Fire were able to be very patient in possession and it paid off. Before Nikolic scored the first goal in the 18th minute, the Fire had two stretches of extending passing.

There was a 17-pass sequence before Juninho attempted a long ball that didn't connect. The Fire won the ball back and went back to passing, this time for 20 consecutive passes before Nikolic missed a trap on a Schweinsteiger pass. The Revolution pushed forward after Nikolic's turnover, but Matt Polster came up with an interception and four passes later he assisted Nikolic's goal.

The Fire's ability to knock the ball around and have good movement in possession eventually led to Nikolic getting behind New England's defense for the breakaway chance. Plus, Schweinsteiger got to do things like this:

New England's adjustment

New England coach Jay Heaps made an adjustment at halftime, which seemed to work. He brought on Juan Agudelo, a forward, for defensive mid Scott Caldwell. The formation change allowed the Revs to finish the match with a slight majority of the possession after the Fire had 55 percent in the first half.

The Revs pressed higher up the field to disrupt the Fire's passing out of the back. They were also able to limit Schweinsteiger's touches. He completed 44 of 48 passes in the first half, but was just 21-for-26 in the second half.

However, the first time the Fire were able to string passes together in the second half, it led to a goal. After Michael de Leeuw was fouled, the Fire connected 11 straight passes to lead to Luis Solignac’s goal in the 61st minute.

Soon after New England got its goal, a play which involved Schweinsteiger unable to beat Agudelo for a header in the box, Paunovic brought on defender Jonathan Campbell and had him play as the third center back with Schweinsteiger moving back into midfield.

Schweinsteiger as a sweeper could work against certain teams, but against New England it was a trump card. Paunovic had never used it before so it caught the Revs off guard, but Heaps had an answer for it and the Fire ended up being a bit lucky to hold onto the win.

New England's shocking misses

Why were the Fire a bit lucky to hold onto the win? Well, take a look at these:

The last four of these gifs came in the last 10 minutes of the game. The Revs had 24 shots, but somehow only one goal.

Bastian Schweinsteiger finally sees the field in Fire preseason

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USA TODAY

Bastian Schweinsteiger finally sees the field in Fire preseason

Coach Veljko Paunovic still went with a second-choice lineup to start the Fire's preseason match against USL expansion team Nashville SC on Wednesday, but the second half featured the first preseason action for Bastian Schweinsteiger.

Schweinsteiger came on for the second half, along with Nemanja Nikolic, Johan Kappelhof and a few other Fire regulars. The German sat out the first four preseason games, but looked sharp in his 45 minutes.

One of the highlights was this smooth move between two defenders:

Schweinsteiger also had an impressive switch pass to set up a shot for second-round pick Diego Campos in the final minutes of the game. Campos drilled the shot on target, but was unable to beat the goalkeeper.

The team did not say Schweinsteiger was injured despite the repeated absences in matches. The Fire have dealt with injuries to Matt Polster, Luis Solignac, Daniel Johnson and rookie Grant Lillard this preseason. None of those four, along with Dax McCarty, played in the 0-0 draw.

The Fire next play Saturday at Orlando in a final match in Florida before returning to Chicago. The Fire also play Tulsa, the team's USL affiliate, at Toyota Park on March 3 before taking on Sporting Kansas City in the season opener on March 10.

Injuries affecting Fire's preseason with season three weeks away

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USA TODAY

Injuries affecting Fire's preseason with season three weeks away

It may be a good thing that the Fire’s originally scheduled season opener March 3 at Colorado got moved back.

The Fire’s preseason has been riddled with injuries to key players and the extra week may end up being needed to get the team ready for the season. Four players (not counting the already known long-term injuries to Michael de Leeuw and Djordje Mihailovic) sat out Saturday’s game against Florida Gulf Coast University due to injury: Daniel Johnson (a right ankle injury suffered in a game against Philadelphia on Feb. 8), Grant Lillard (left knee), Matt Polster (left knee) and Luis Solignac (left hip).

Polster’s injury is especially notable because he has had recurring left knee problems since first suffering a sprain in the 2016 season finale at Toronto. Polster missed the first nine games of 2017 due to the injury and missed three more in August due to a related injury.

The 24-year-old, who is now the longest tenured player on the team and the only player remaining from before general manager Nelson Rodriguez’s tenure began at the end of the 2015 season, arrived with the Fire after playing with the U.S. national team in January. He played all 90 minutes on Jan. 28 against Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Bastian Schweinsteiger still hasn’t played in the preseason and the team hasn’t listed him as injured.

All the absences, combined with rest for some of the team’s regulars, resulted in a starting lineup against Florida Gulf Coast that featured two players who have appeared in an official match with the Fire. Three trialists and four draft picks started.

Four of the Fire’s seven scheduled preseason matches are in the books. The Fire lost 2-1 to Montreal on Feb. 14. One of the bright spots was a rare set piece goal after the Fire trailed the Impact 2-0. Dax McCarty headed in a free kick from Diego Campos. Campos has been dangerous on set pieces, hitting the post with a free kick and assisting a goal from a corner kick in Saturday’s 2-0 win against Florida Gulf Coast.

Next up is a match against USL expansion team Nashville SC on Feb. 21. Next Saturday the Fire play at Orlando to finish up play in Florida.

The Fire close out the preseason March 3 against the team’s USL affiliate, Tulsa, at Toyota Park before the season opener on March 10.