Fire

Fire finally land the big one in Bastian Schweinsteiger

Fire finally land the big one in Bastian Schweinsteiger

Bastian Schweinsteiger is going to play for the Chicago Fire.

That sentence being true isn't a big surprise after four months of rumors, but it still may feel odd.

After years of rumors, failed acquisitions and near misses, the Fire finally got a big name. From the Jermaine Jones blind draw to Montreal beating the Fire to Didier Drogba and even the near-signing of Alejandro Bedoya last year, the Fire have been rumored to add notable players on a few occasions in the last few years. This time the Fire finalized the deal and now have a marquee name for the first time since Cuauhtemoc Blanco played for the team from 2007-2009.

The move is an obvious marketing boon for the club. Schweinsteiger is a world famous player who has played for two of the biggest, most well-known and supported teams in the world in Bayern Munich and Manchester United. He has nearly 4 million Twitter followers (which is 35 times what the Fire's official account has).

Scan the internet for reaction to the signing and there is a scattering of 'I have to go to a game now' comments. That's what the Fire are going for.

General manager Nelson Rodriguez said Schweinsteiger may be the biggest name to ever play for the Fire.

"I think that there have been other great players who have worn red," Rodriguez said. "Players such as Cuauhtemoc Blanco, Hristo Stoichkov, Peter Nowak… with respect to all of those people I think Bastian is just another strata. It's a result of his having won with every team with which he played. He captured every major trophy for which he's contested. There's not many people in all of sports that can make similar claims."

Stoichkov won the 1994 Ballon d’Or, a world player of the year award, and scored the most goals in the 1994 World Cup so Rodriguez's claim may be dubious, but the point is Schweinsteiger's resume is in the upper tier of players.

On the other side, there are questions about how effective he will be for this team and how he will fit in. Schweinsteiger hasn't played a single Premier League match for Man U this season. He has played four cup games, but it's fair to wonder about the health and effectiveness of the 32-year-old. That said, just because a player can't get on the field for Manchester United doesn't mean he can't still be good enough to be effective for an MLS team.

"Bastian is bringing his quality as a person, as a human and his experience in the locker room," coach Veljko Paunovic said after training on Tuesday. "He's also very professional and there are many proofs for that. I don't think that I have to tell the people who we are bringing in our environment. It's just that we know for sure that he is going to be successful here. He is going to help our locker room grow, learn and win. With all the qualities that he brings on and off the field, I think it's enough for us to have a man and a leader in the locker room that can take us to have a great experience this year."

There have been plenty of big name players to join Major League Soccer past their prime. Some have succeeded (Thierry Henry, Robbie Keane, David Villa) and some have not (Rafa Marquez, Freddie Ljungberg, Torsten Frings).

The comparison being mentioned most is Steven Gerrard. Gerrard played the same position as Schweinsteiger and joined the LA Galaxy from Liverpool in 2015 at age 35, three years older than Schweinsteiger is now. He made 34 appearances in a season and a half in MLS and totaled five goals and 14 assists, but struggled to cover ground defensively. Would the Fire be happy if Schweinsteiger turned out to be another Gerrard in MLS?

The timing of the move adds an extra twist considering the Fire just got thumped at expansion team Atlanta, a club which spent tons of money but did so on young South American talent. Not many soccer fans in America had previously heard of Miguel Almiron, Josef Martinez or Hector Villalba, but Saturday's 4-0 win against the Fire showed all three are among the best talents in MLS and make Atlanta both a contender and a fun team to watch, making name recognition moot.

The best example of younger talent paying dividends is Seattle paying up to land midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro in the middle of last season. Lodeiro was 27 when Seattle signed him and he led the Sounders' turnaround from a team on the brink of falling out of playoff contention into MLS Cup champs.

In a time when the league has started to eschew older talent in lieu of younger players that don't have the name recognition attached to them, the Fire bring in a 32-year-old who hasn't played a league match all season and has a recent history of knee injuries.

Schweinsteiger's quality in midfield has been proven throughout his career and if he still has something left in his knees, he will be a good MLS player. How good and how much better does he make the Fire? That's the $4.5 million question.

Fire sign veteran MLS forward Alan Gordon

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USA TODAY

Fire sign veteran MLS forward Alan Gordon

As far as notorious players in MLS with a history of scoring big goals, Alan Gordon is one of the first names on that list.

The Fire signed the 36-year-old forward on Friday, continuing to add depth to a roster that appeared paper thin throughout the preseason. Gordon, who had been on trial with the Fire for part of the preseason and even after the season opener, signed a one-year deal.

Gordon adds plenty of experience from being in the league since 2004 and having scored 55 goals with five different teams. For the past few years he has been used primarily as a substitute, but has still maintained his reputation for scoring goals late in games.

At 6-foot-3 he brings plenty of size and strength to the team and is one of the best players on headers in the league. Last season the Fire failed to score directly off a set piece, which was both due to consistently poor service from corner kicks and a lack of players adept at finishing them off. Gordon should give the Fire a late-game option in that area.

Elliot Collier had impressed the Fire enough to earn a contract as a third-round pick and an international player and even came off the bench in the opening loss to Sporting Kansas City, but it appears the team wanted more experience at forward with Gordon.

Wild season opener shows plenty of things to work on for Fire

Wild season opener shows plenty of things to work on for Fire

If you were looking for entertainment, goals, plot twists and storylines, the Fire’s season opener had all of those boxes checked.

What it didn’t have was even a point for the hosts against Sporting Kansas City on Saturday at Toyota Park.

The first half showed a Fire team which very much looked like the “incomplete” roster that general manager Nelson Rodriguez referenced just before the season. KC led 2-0 and the Fire failed to get a shot on target, showing a lack of chance creation and any semblance of a dangerous attack.

The second half showed a Fire attack which was capable of turning the heat up on the visitors, but also a defense which couldn’t defend. Sporting's 4-3 win revealed that there’s plenty of work to do for the Fire to resemble the team that finished third in the MLS regular season last year.

“Especially in the first half we saw that we weren’t ready to compete with a team that had an advantage that they had one competition game before us,” coach Veljko Paunovic said. “That was the main difference in the first half, but the adjustment in the second half was tremendous. I think just showing that we can score three goals that quickly and create even more opportunities was a positive.”

However, Paunovic wasn’t about to let his team off the hook by only speaking about positives.

“What we learned today is that we have to get better on every side of the game and in every aspect of the game,” he said. “We are not there. We didn’t have a good game. I think overall a lot of innocent and naive mistakes.”

After trailing 2-0 at halftime, the Fire revved things up in the final 25 minutes and Bastian Schweinsteiger keyed the first goal with a slick assist to newcomer Aleksandar Katai. Nemanja Nikolic showed the scoring instincts and finishing ability that won him the league scoring title a year ago by scoring two more goals to give the Fire the lead in the 82nd minute.

Then it all fell apart, with two KC goals within four minutes of Nikolic giving the Fire the lead. Dax McCarty, your thoughts?

“You’re 10 minutes away from the headline and the storyline being Chicago Fire show great character, make a fantastic comeback, win the game 3-2 and yet here we are sitting here, somehow losing that game, which is insane,” McCarty said. “It’s totally insane.”

The defensive struggles, which Paunovic pointed out mirrored last year’s early playoff exit in a 4-0 loss, will need to get resolved internally. Johan Kappelhof, Brandon Vincent and Matt Polster all started on a competent defense last year and McCarty and Schweinsteiger helped play damage control in midfield. This isn’t what the weakness of the team was supposed to be yet after one game, it’s all anyone on the team could talk about.

“We gave up four goals,” Kappelhof said. “That’s not good. Simple.”

While more additions may be coming in-season, as Rodriguez has mentioned, and injuries haven’t allowed the Fire to start 2018 fresh, this game wasn’t a good sign for what’s to come for the 2018 Fire. A lack of any offensive creation in the first half and a lack of defensive concentration, as Paunovic put it, throughout the game showed a team that has plenty of pock-marks currently.

“We don’t know how to defend, quite frankly," McCarty said. "From back to front, front to back, the defending aspect of our game was pretty poor. A lot of things to learn."

The good news is even if the Fire take some time to correct the errors from Saturday’s season opener, MLS is a forgiving league. A majority of the league, 12 of 23 teams, makes the playoffs and league-wide parity means teams can go through slumps and still end in good standing. A year ago, the Fire lost six games out of seven and still had the third best record in the league. It’s OK if the team takes time to iron out some organizational issues defensively, just don’t take too long.