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.

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.

Fire open offseason by sending Arturo Alvarez home

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USA TODAY

Fire open offseason by sending Arturo Alvarez home

And they're off.

MLS Cup finished just last night with Toronto completing arguably the best season in league history, but the offseason doesn't wait long to get going. The Fire took advantage of Sunday's short trade window before Los Angeles FC's expansion draft takes place on Tuesday by trading Arturo Alvarez to the Houston Dynamo.

Alvarez, a Houston native, gets to go home and could finish his career with the Dynamo. The Fire received a second-round pick in the 2019 draft.

Alvarez, 32, made 55 regular season MLS appearances with the Fire in two years. He had five goals and nine assists in 2016, leading the team in assists. This past season he saw his minutes get nearly cut in half although he did regain a regular spot in the team towards the end of the season and finished with three goals and two assists.

“Arturo had perhaps his two best years wearing our red and we appreciate all that he gave to our club,” Fire general manager Nelson Rodríguez said in the team's statement. “We saw this as a chance to allow him to return home while opening up his minutes for some other players.”

The question is which players Rodriguez is referring to. Alvarez played primarily at right midfield, frequently cutting inside with his dangerous left foot. Two players come to mind as possible fill-ins already on the roster: Daniel Johnson and Brandt Bronico.

Johnson was the Fire's first-round pick in the 2017 draft and showed flashes of ability, but dealt with injuries through much of the season and made eight substitute appearances totaling 125 minutes. He is a wide player, but was the opposite of Alvarez, typically playing on the left and cutting in on his right foot.

Bronico was the 2017 third-round pick and made only four sub appearances adding up to 53 minutes played. With such limited action it was difficult to gauge whether he could be a wide midfielder or should be played centrally. Either way, with Alvarez gone and Michael de Leeuw and Djordje Mihailovic out for the first few months of 2018 with ACL tears, both Johnson and Bronico will have opportunities the way the roster is currently constructed.

More news is due later today with the expansion draft set for Tuesday. The Fire will announce the 11 players they are protecting. Homegrown players (Drew Conner and Mihailovic) won't need to be protected. The Fire have 17 others players that will be eligible for the expansion draft.