The Fire’s midfield underwent a major restructuring in 2017 and it went from being a weakness to a strength. As a result, the unit didn’t see much change entering 2018.
Dax McCarty and Bastian Schweinsteiger will once again form one of the best central midfield pairings in the league. There are a couple new faces, but the team will still run through them.
Returning players (2017 MLS regular season stats)
Dax McCarty (28 games played, 28 starts, 2,465 minutes, 5 assists)
Bastian Schweinsteiger (24 GP, 23 GS, 1,993 minutes, 3 goals, 6 assists)
Drew Conner (21 GP, 8 GS, 882 minutes, 1 assist)
Djordje Mihailovic (17 GP, 7 GS, 732 minutes)
Brandt Bronico (4 GP, 53 minutes)
Mo Adams (No. 10 pick)
Tony Tchani (trade with Vancouver)
There might be improved depth in this unit with Tchani replacing Juninho and rookie Mo Adams showing signs of being a contributor in preseason. Mihailovic being out for a significant chunk of the season while he recovers from his ACL tear does take away a somewhat different option in midfield, but it’s not clear how he will fit into this lineup when healthy.
Conner got a decent chunk of minutes last season when injuries hit the team hard, but it doesn’t look like they will be easy to come by for him this year. The addition of Rafael Ramos as a backup right back takes away one spot Conner earned minutes in last year. Tchani and Adams coming in with only Juninho leaving means Conner could be further down the depth chart in central midfield unless he beats out Adams for playing time.
Schweinsteiger’s role could see some variation this year. At times in 2017 he played higher up the field and he also played a sweeper/libero role on occasion, but he settled into his more traditional defensive midfield spot by the latter part of the season. With no playmaker on the roster (as general manager Nelson Rodriguez has mentioned the team is still looking for), it appears Schweinsteiger will be one of the players to step into an advanced role in midfield.
Coach Veljko Paunovic said Schweinsteiger will play higher or deeper depending on what he thinks they can take advantage of, and even said the phrase “No. 10” in that context unsolicited after Saturday’s preseason finale.
Tchani and McCarty can be the defensive stalwarts while Schweinsteiger can have more freedom to join in on the attack. If one of them is unavailable, Adams seems like the first choice off the bench given how extensively he played in preseason.
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