Bastian Schweinsteiger spent his 33rd birthday on Tuesday soaking in his 2017 MLS All-Star experience, helping set the stage for what should be a memorable day-after-his-birthday on Wednesday.
Schweinsteiger and the rest of the MLS squad trained and met with media at Soldier Field, where on Wednesday (8pm, FS1, Univision) they’ll test themselves against Real Madrid in front of what is now a sellout crowd on Chicago’s lakefront.
As he recalled in a press conference Tuesday, it was his participation in the 2014 MLS All-Star Game in Portland that sparked his curiosity about one day joining the U.S. league.
“I could feel the atmosphere, the positive atmosphere of the supporters, and you could feel in their eyes how much it means for them,” he said. “I really enjoyed it a lot and I said why not play once in the MLS? So it started like this. I hope maybe players from Real Madrid experience the same so they can come over and play in this league.”
One player who could come away with such an impression is midfielder Toni Kroos, a teammate of Schweinsteiger’s for seven years at Bayern Munich as well as a fellow 2014 World Cup winner with the German national team. There’s little doubt that Kroos is among those who’ve taken notice of Schweinsteiger’s form and overall experience thus far in Chicago and MLS.
“I’ve not seen him for a long time now but everything I heard is that he has a good time here, that he’s happy here, I think it works very very well,” Kroos said Tuesday. “That’s what I wish him, I wish him all the best of course.”
Zinedine Zidane obviously has a talent-laden roster at his disposal for his club’s preseason tour of MLS, though it is currently without Cristiano Ronaldo, who is due to rejoin the team on Saturday. For Schweinsteiger, the absence of the Portuguese superstar -- who, Schweinsteiger admitted with a smile, has scored a lot of goals “against Bayern Munich, for example” -- hardly detracts from the task at hand when the opening whistle blows Wednesday night.
“They still have a lot of good players, Ronaldo is obviously one of the best players of the world, but they also have other players who can play a main part in their game, so we have to really try to focus on our game to control the key players of theirs," Schweinsteiger said, "and the best would be not to make so many easy mistakes because they’re going to use it.”
"At the end of last season, one of the big keys for Real Madrid was the balance and control they were able to find in their midfield," said Toronto FC and U.S. Men's National Team midfielder Michael Bradley. "Their ability to give the team rhythm and dictate things with their choice of passes, it's a really good collection of players and obviously we'll have to do a lot to close them down and make the game difficult for them."
Likewise, Kroos and his teammates have challenges of their own when lining up against a quality side with no past record of form or playing style to prepare for. Though it's only preseason, the European champions have been on the wrong end of recent scorelines against Barcelona, Manchester City and Manchester United, leaving them in search of a more palatable outcome as they build toward 2017-18.
"It's the same like always, we try to win," Kroos said. "It works not perfect, the last matches we know, but of course we want to finish this preseason with this victory. If you wear this shirt, we go out to win. It's the last game before the real season starts, the important games come, and our goal is to go to the next match with a good feeling. I hope we can do it."