TORONTO – Reports of Bastian Schweinsteiger’s demise have proven to be greatly exaggerated.
The Chicago Fire’s signing of Schweinsteiger last month was met with a lot of criticism within Major League Soccer circles, the general feeling being that the 32-year-old German who most recently washed out at Manchester United was past his prime and was just another aging star coming to the league in order to cash in before retiring.
It was silly to write off Schweinsteiger before he even played a game in MLS, though. He may be 32, but he’s a young 32. He still has plenty of gas left in the tank, especially after being under-utilized at United, and it took him only 17 minutes to score in his debut earlier this month when he put in a man-of-the-match performance in a 2-2 draw against the Montreal Impact.
In total, the former Bayern Munich midfielder and World Cup winner has scored two goals and added an assist, and tallied eight shots (three on target) in his trio of appearances for the Fire. Over the hill? Nothing left to give? Thus far, Schweinsteiger is making his critics look very silly, and he’ll attempt to add Toronto FC to the growing list of MLS teams he’s terrorized when the Fire face the Reds at BMO Field on Friday night.
“He can open up a game quickly, and he can arrive late into the box and finish when given the opportunity. He’s helped [Chicago] out just in terms of his quality and sheer soccer ability,” TFC coach Greg Vanney offered.
Toronto midfielder Victor Vazquez played against Schweinsteiger during the playoff round of the 2015-16 UEFA Champions League – Manchester United beat Belgian side Club Brugge, Vazquez’s former team, 7-1 on aggregate to advance to the group stage. Their time together on the pitch in that two-legged series was brief, but it left a lasting impression on the Spaniard.
“He’s an amazing player. He [makes] amazing passes. He’s more or less like me, finding gaps [of space to exploit]. He’s a wonderful player, and we have to manage [him] and don’t let him play really comfortable,” Vazquez offered.
TFC captain Michael Bradley also faced Schweinsteiger, at the 2014 FIFA World Cup when Germany beat the United States 1-0 in the group stage. The American international has been impressed by the German’s attitude and work ethic in Chicago.
“The career that he’s had and the impact that he has made on all the different teams that he’s played on … Obviously on Bayern Munich in Germany and even in a short time at Man United – when he was healthy he still showed what an important guy he can be,” Bradley stated.
“It’s exciting for everybody else to see how he has come here and at least, from afar, seems very committed to trying to give everything he has for that club.”
Vanney described Schweinsteiger as a very intelligent player on the pitch in terms of his movement off the ball, and how he manages to get himself into dangerous positions.
“He’s very smart about how he moves around the field, and how he can get his touches on the ball, how he can find himself in areas where he’s facing forward and/or he can play forward,” Vanney explained.
There’s an elegant subtlety to Schweinsteiger’s game now – it’s no longer about power and strength, or him making lung-busting runs from deep positions like he used to earlier in his career, although he can still do that. Once considered among the best box-to-box midfielders in the game, Schweinsteiger has sliced open MLS teams with his passing ability, afforded extra time on the ball thanks in large part to the dirty work put in by Dax McCarty, Chicago’s veteran defensive midfielder.
“On the half turn he can put somebody in [on goal], and when he’s facing [forward] he can slide balls between lines. I don’t think he’s necessarily the out-and-out, true attacking midfielder that you see in some teams around MLS,” Vanney said.
NOTES: Toronto defender Drew Moor missed last week’s game away to Columbus due to an irregular heartbeat. He’s scheduled to see a cardiologist early next week, and Vanney expects him to be able to play again in two-and-half-weeks. With Moor out for Friday’s game, look for Nick Hagglund to start in the middle of TFC’s three-man defence, like he did against Columbus… Defender Jason Hernandez (calf) and starting goalkeeper Clint Irwin (hamstring) could be back in full training next week. Defender Chris Mavinga (adductor strain) is still a few weeks away from a return to action.