Among a lengthy list of topics covered at a media roundtable held Wednesday afternoon at Toyota Park, Chicago Fire President and General Manager Nelson Rodríguez did not mince words when the conversation turned to midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger.
“For me he’s one of the best players in the league,” Rodríguez said. “Period.”
After a debut season in 2017 that saw the 33-year-old Designated Player help lift the Fire to the club’s first postseason berth in five years, Schweinsteiger has picked up right where he left off through the first third of year two. In stints lined up across the backline and in both the defensive and attacking midfield, Schweinsteiger has been as much a key defensive piece for head coach Veljko Paunovic as he has been a spark in the Fire attack.
“He has been nearly heroic in playing whatever role is asked of him and doing it selflessly," Rodríguez said. "When we talk about playing style and identity, he has that gritty elegance that we’re seeking. That ‘I’ll do whatever it takes, but at the same time I will be graceful in doing it.’”
By the numbers, Schweinsteiger has been credited with a goal and four assists through nine appearances in 2018. He additionally leads or is among the top two on the team in assists per 90 minutes (0.33), chances created per 90 (1.44), touches per 90 (88.11) as well as both total passes (614) and accuracy (84.2%).
Last Sunday, Schweinsteiger donned the captain’s armband during the Fire’s match against the Houston Dynamo, shouldering the responsibility while midfield running mate Dax McCarty rehabs from an injury. Rodríguez does not understate the degree to which the World Cup winner’s influence extends off the field.
“When I think about our championship program and I think about how that can be represented and I think about the mentality that we want for the club -- the entire club, not just for the team -- I don’t think there’s a player on Earth that’s better than Bastian,” Rodríguez said. “I think he’s the perfect embodiment of what we’re after and what we want.”
On the field, there is work to be done for this Fire side. Sunday’s defeat to the Dynamo kept the Men In Red below the playoff line for the week, currently sitting eighth entering Saturday's Eastern Conference road test at Orlando City (6:30 PM CT, ESPN+).
“[Basti's] frustrated, and everyone could see it in moments of the game on Sunday,” Rodríguez said. “Bastian admitted it. Part of that frustration is he’s not used to losing. He’s not used to some repetitive mistakes that seem to be coming back.”
However, despite a slower-than-expected start to his second season in MLS, Schweinsteiger’s personality perseveres.
“He has immense reservoirs of enthusiasm,” Rodríguez concluded. “Come out to training and you’re going to see a guy who loves what he does. And he loves his teammates.
“Right now people should pay more attention and should see him because this guy is incredibly special.”