Fire

Bastian Schweinsteiger talks about playing sweeper in the Fire's win at New England

Bastian Schweinsteiger talks about playing sweeper in the Fire's win at New England

The Chicago Fire keep winning and Bastian Schweinsteiger continues to be at the heart of the team’s success.

The German played a new role in the Fire 2-1 win Saturday at the New England Revolution. Instead of his typical central midfield spot, Schweinsteiger lined up between the two central defenders, Johan Kappelhof and Joao Meira, as a sweeper or libero.

At its base, a sweeper was initially known as a last line of defense, someone who would clean up any attacks that got past other defenders. However, as the position evolved it started to be used more as a tool to create possession and attack play.

Schweinsteiger played this role for most of the match on Saturday. He had defensive responsibilities, largely marking New England striker Kei Kamara, but also started most of the Fire’s build up play. He became the point man who started and controlled things when the Fire were in possession.

In the Wikipedia entry for sweeper, the first player named is Franz Beckenbauer. Beckenbauer, who finished his career with the New York Cosmos in 1983, helped Germany win the 1974 World Cup and is widely regarded as one of the best players of his generation. He was one of the key players in changing the sweeper position from a solely defensive role into one that has attacking responsibilities as well.


Beckenbauer retired before Schweinsteiger was born so Schweinsteiger never got to see him play live, but has seen some old videos of him on TV. When asked about playing Beckenbauer’s position, Schweinsteiger said it’s a “big honor,” but hadn’t thought about that previously.

“I can’t really speak about it because I didn’t know exactly,” Schweinsteiger said. “I knew that he was also playing in the center sometimes as a libero or a midfield player, but I think a lot of teams are actually playing this system. I think Juventus, Chelsea, there are some teams, even Bayern Munich, that are playing it. It’s just a different playing style. Some more defenders, some more midfield players so it depends a little, but I like it.”

Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said the decision to go with the move was based on a few factors, mostly New England’s narrow attack with Kamara, Lee Nguyen and Diego Fagundez as the primary attackers.

“Three guys that play very narrow,” Paunovic said. “We thought that could be a good solution. Obviously he has qualities to play (as a sweeper). The experience, the vision as a midfielder and I spoke with him and he did play in the past that position. He agreed also that he could play it because we also needed it for this game.”

Paunovic said the plan was in place in advance of the game and he liked how it looked in practice. He called it “another weapon” that the Fire can use in the future.

“We played out of the back,” Paunovic said. “We could see clearly that he is our man that created superiority for the build up. Everything went well.”

It doesn’t sound like utilizing Schweinsteiger in this way is something the Fire will use regularly, but it could be used again.

“Sometimes you have to play different,” Schweinsteiger said. “We always try to make it difficult for the opponent obviously. That’s the goal in every match. It always changes. It depends. Sometimes we play like this, sometimes we play different. Let’s see what’s next.”

Chicago Fire permanently sign midfielder Aleksandar Katai

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USA TODAY

Chicago Fire permanently sign midfielder Aleksandar Katai

The Fire have secured the transfer of midfielder Aleksandar Katai from Deportivo Alavés of the Spanish La Liga, the team announced Wednesday afternoon.

This season’s breakout playmaker has been signed with Chicago through 2019, with a 2020 club option. Before the transfer, Katai was on loan from Alavés, which was set to expire after July.

The Serbian player has emerged as one of the most important pieces of the Fire’s offense this season. Since joining the club on Feb. 6, Katai has scored eight goals in 18 league matches, tying forward Nemanja Nikolić for the most on the team. Katai also has three assists in 2018.

The 27-year-old’s biggest game of the year came against New York City FC last month when he scored two goals to lead the Fire to 3-2 victory. His production this season in the MLS has been much more significant than it was in 23 matches with Alavés, where Katai only tallied three goals and four assists.

His transfer fee is unknown but, according to Sam Stejskal of MLSsoccer.com, he will be a “Targeted Allocation Money player” for the rest of this season and will not be a Designated Player until 2019. Whatever the official price was, acquiring Katai for a lengthier amount of time seemed like a must.

Throughout this season, the Fire were rumored to be in talks with legendary Spanish striker Fernando Torres. On Tuesday, he signed with Sagan Tosu, a Japanese club. The Fire signed Katai the next day, showing that the team was possibly waiting for Torres to leave the market.

Chicago will face the Philadelphia Union Wednesday night at Toyota Park, where Katai will look to continue his impressive season.

Chicago Fire defender Johan Kappelhof involved in car crash on Thursday morning

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USA TODAY

Chicago Fire defender Johan Kappelhof involved in car crash on Thursday morning

Chicago Fire defender Johan Kappelhof was involved in a car accident on his way to practice Thursday morning that sent him to the hospital with minor injuries.

According to authorities and the Secretary of State’s Office, a box truck crashed into the Dutch player’s 2013 Volkswagen and another vehicle in the 5900 block of South Harlem. Kappelhof’s vehicle rolled over and two people fled from the scene.

The driver ran on foot and the passenger moved into the driver’s seat before driving the truck onto the Stevenson Expressway after the crash, officials said. After the damaged vehicle broke down, police say the same passenger tried to jump into the Illinois and Michigan Canal. Both were taken into custody.

Team officials said Kappelhof was treated and released from the hospital without indicators of a concussion. The 27-year-old was reportedly seen at Toyota Park after the crash and did not have any serious injuries. The other driver who was hit by the box truck was also treated, police said.

This season in league play with the Fire, Kappelhof has three assists in 16 games. The international product was a 2017 MLS All-Star and the Defensive Player of the Year for the Fire last season. He was signed in 2016 and has made one MLS Cup Playoffs appearance.