BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – This weekend Bastian Schweinsteiger’s new role at the heart of the Chicago Fire defense will be tested by a player he believes is “one of the best in the league.”
High-flying -- and high-scoring -- Atlanta United visit Toyota Park on Saturday (7:30 pm CT | TICKETS). And the German World Cup winner knows he and his fellow defenders will have to be at their best to stifle the league’s most potent attack, with Atlanta having racked up 21 goals in their eight games this year.
“They have a lot of quality up front,” Schweinsteiger told MLSsoccer.com. “For me, [Miguel] Almiron is one of the best players in the league. We definitely have to find a way to stop these kind of guys, they are a very dangerous team, very passionate about soccer, so you can also see in the duels they want to win every single battle.
“They have a lot of quality, technical quality in their squad, so we will analyze them, we will plan a nice gameplan and then obviously also for our qualities and where we can maybe hurt them.”
The Fire return to Chicago on the back of a four-point haul from a two-game road stretch against Eastern Conference rivals the New York Red Bulls and Toronto FC. Schweinsteiger was once again instrumental in everything good the Fire did in both games, especially in the 2-2 draw in Toronto, where he produced a Man-of-the-Match performance with a goal and assist on top of a missed first-half penalty kick.
“I think it’s priceless to say, the quality and the possibility to play in different roles on our team,” head coach Veljko Paunovic, speaking exclusively to MLSsoccer.com, said of Schweinsteiger.
"When he has to go back and play as a sweeper or in the creation of the attack and even in the final third, he is capable of playing every position on the field and playing that role effectively. So he’s a complete player – complete, accomplished player on and off the field, and that’s something that has a huge value.”
Schweinsteiger, 33, rolled back the years with a vintage performance in Toronto, leading by example from the sweeper role, scoring his first goal of the season and providing his fourth assist of the year for Alan Gordon to equalize in dramatic fashion deep into injury time.
As you’d expect, the calm, assured German is taking it all in his stride.
“I tried to give my energy and my input to the game wherever I am playing,” Schweinsteiger said. “So it doesn’t matter if I play as a No. 10, as a No. 6, 8 or a center back, I try to help as much as I can. Our coach is always thinking about what is the best in every single game, so it is always a little bit different. It depends who is available on our team and, I guess, who we are playing, so I really try to adapt on every position I find with everyone.”
As he has done many times since Schweinsteiger’s arrival in Chicago last March, Paunovic sang the praises of the former Bayern Munich and Manchester United midfielder, who has prospered in his new role this season.
“He gives the experience and the leadership and the confidence at any given moment of the game,” Paunovic said. “Even when we have setbacks, like when he missed the penalty, he is capable of coming back and scoring a goal and creating more opportunities and even assists.
“That role of the leadership and that never-giving-up mentality which is common in most of the Germans, but especially in a world-class player and a world champion like him,” he added, “that leadership is a very important quality.”
Shane Murray is a contributor to MLSsoccer.com.