Bastian Schweinsteiger

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – Bastian Schweinsteiger has negotiated the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League on many occasions throughout his trophy-laden career. Now the German star is looking forward to his first experience of knockout soccer MLS style, as the Chicago Fire look ahead to their return to the postseason for the first time in six years.

The Men in Red (15-10-7, 52 pts.) secured their place in the Eastern Conference postseason bracket following their comprehensive 4-1 victory over the San Jose Earthquakes on Wednesday night. And now, with just two games remaining after Saturday’s 1-1 tie with fellow contenders New York City FC, attention turns to the playoffs and finishing the regular season in the highest position possible.

“We are very excited to play playoffs, I think last time was [2012],” Schweinsteiger said. “I never had, actually, in my life, playoffs. If you call it in the Champions League playoffs, then I played it quite a lot, but it's the first time here, so I'm looking forward to it.”

With just six points separating second-place NYCFC and fifth-placed Columbus Crew SC, there’s still much to play for in the East, with seeding – and all the advantages and disadvantages that it confers – still to be decided.

“It will be a tough game. We don’t know yet which position we will be, so it’s not easy to speak about it,” Schweinsteiger added. “We have two more games, we will try to win these two games and then we will be in good shape for the playoff game then.”

Besides the opening goal from Nemanja Nikolic, the loudest cheer of Saturday night was reserved for Schweinsteiger’s introduction in the 71st minute for Arturo Alvarez. The former Bayern Munich and Manchester United midfielder has been sidelined by a calf injury picked up in the 1-0 road victory over the Montreal Impact on Sept. 2, and his return was greeted with adulation from Toyota Park’s sixth sellout crowd of the year.

The 33-year-old has had limited training time since as he sat out the past four games, in which the Fire compiled a 2-1-1 record.

"Weird, because I was not used to it,” he said of coming on as a substitute. “I actually only trained once with the team. But I felt okay, and now we have two weeks until the next game so it's perfect to get back into rhythm. It was a great reception from the stands. Thank you to all the people who came tonight.”

Schweinsteiger’s return stirred the Fire faithful and injected fresh energy and purpose to the home side’s attack, but they failed to find a breakthrough as David Villa’s 43rd-minute strike earned the visitors a point.

“I think we earned a good point and he did well when he came in,” Fire head coach Veljko Paunovic said. “It was very important for him to get minutes today, and we will work the next couple of weeks to improve his fitness so he's ready to start. We are very confident that he's progressing well.”

With an international break occupying the calendar for the next week, Chicago have one home game against the Philadelphia Union on October 15 and a road trip to Houston six days later. That gives Schweinsteiger two weeks to build his fitness and sharpness before their playoff campaign begins.

“I can't say exactly where I am, but not 100 percent, because for that I need more training sessions and that's why it's good to have two weeks,” Schweinsteiger said, “where I can really go for it and train very intense, and to get ready for the last two matches and also the playoffs.”

Shane Murray is a contributor to