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.

Manchester City brings Premier League trophy to Chicago ahead of preseason game in Soldier Field

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NBC Sports Chicago

Manchester City brings Premier League trophy to Chicago ahead of preseason game in Soldier Field

Manchester City is coming off a season in which it dominated the English Premier League to the tune of a record 100-point season.

City is kicking off the preseason of its title defense in Chicago. City takes on Borussia Dortmund at Soldier Field on Friday night.

The last time the reigning Premier League champions were in Chicago was when rivals Manchester United came to Soldier to take on the Chicago Fire in 2011.

The Citizens won’t have the full arsenal of stacked stars for its U.S. tour, which also includes stops in New York and Miami as part of the International Champions Cup. Many of the team’s best players are getting a break after playing in the World Cup. Belgium’s Kevin De Bruyne, one of the stars of the tournament, is one of six Man City players to reach the semifinals.

Paul Dickov, who played for City for nearly 10 years between 1996 and 2008, is on tour with the team and talked about City’s preparations.

“The reason the clubs want to come to the States and play in International Champions Cup is the facilities are fantastic, the training facilities, the hotels, the treatment they get and just give them the best preparation going into what’s going to be a hard season,” Dickov said. “Nobody has won the Premier League back-to-back titles for nearly 10 years now so it’s going to be tough. Coming here and being able to prepare the way they can in the United States is going to put them on a long way to regain the title again.”

City brought the Premier League trophy to Wrigley Field on Thursday for the Cubs-Cardinals game. Dickov got to throw out the first pitch. The Scotsman threw a strike, much to his relief.

“I was quite calm beforehand, but I must admit when I got out there and I had to walk out there both hands started getting a bit sweaty,” he said. “I managed to make it and I got a fantastic reception off the Chicago Cubs fans so thank you to everybody at Chicago Cubs for having me there. It was great. Something I’ll never forget.”


Dickov compared Cubs fans to City fans in the way both teams struggled for a long time before finding success.

“They stuck by us through thick and thin when things weren’t as great,” Dickov said of Man City fans. “I suppose it’s a little bit like the Chicago Cubs here in Chicago. The fans turn out, they get 30-40 thousand, great atmosphere, back their team.”

While promoting the game, the Premier League trophy made multiple stops in Chicago, including with the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field on an off day.

City also took the trophy and new signing Riyad Mahrez, who just joined Man City from 2016 champions Leicester City, to Haas Park in Logan Square. Haas Park includes a soccer field donated by Manchester City and the American embassy of the United Arab Emirates in 2012.

“The outcome of it has been great,” Dickov said. “Thousands of children and families benefiting, not just from the soccer part of it, but the education program as well. To be down there the other day for the full day and seeing the joy in the kids face seeing soccer here and the other activities that are on is great because, yeah, football is fantastic, soccer is fantastic and when you’re out there and you play you want to win, but it’s important, especially from Manchester City’s point of view, the city and the community. The stuff that they do off the field is second to none and it’s giving something back.”

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.