The man has won the World Cup, the UEFA Champions League, the FA Cup, the DFB Pokal, and eight Bundesliga titles, but Chicago Fire midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger enters Wednesday night’s Knockout Round match with the New York Red Bulls (7:30 p.m. CT | UniMas, FS1) with the same amount of MLS Cup Playoff experience as all but a handful of his teammates: none.
Schweinsteiger appeared 24 times with 23 starts for the Men In Red in the regular season, but has been in-and-out of the lineup after suffering a leg injury during an early September trip to Montreal. He trained Monday in hopes of featuring in Wednesday night's Knockout Round matchup.
Speaking candidly following Monday’s training session at Toyota Park, Schweinsteiger reflected on the differences between his knockout competition experiences abroad as compared to his team’s upcoming test in the MLS postseason.
"At the end, we came third in the whole country,” he said, referencing the Fire’s final position in the standings at the conclusion of Sunday’s Decision Day. "It’s good, but at the end of the day, in America it depends on the playoffs. In the Bundesliga, you would be in the Champion’s League. Here it’s more or less nothing. We try to focus now on the playoffs and forget about the season more or less."
As the third seed in the Eastern Conference bracket, the Fire welcome a sixth-seeded Red Bull side to Toyota Park for the second time this season. The original meeting ended in a 1-1 draw, but past results will not matter come kickoff Wednesday night.
"They are very good in my eyes,” Schweinsteiger said. "But we play at home. We want to use the home advantage with our crowd, our supporters at our back. It definitely helps us, but we have to perform. It’s going to be a very tough game against the Red Bulls."
While the 33-year-old himself is a wealth of experience in single-match elimination contests on the highest stages, he and his teammates have leaned on the likes of Dax McCarty, Arturo Alvarez, and Juninho for MLS-specific advice as part of their postseason preparations.
"Some of the guys have actually played playoff games,” he said. “Even when you’re sixth in the conference you can — in one game or in two or three games — win a lot. We know that. We will give everything. We’ll perform as good as possible. In one game you can win a lot. We know that as well as the Red Bulls know."
"We have a lot of players —even world champions — playing for the first time in playoff games," head coach Veljko Paunovic added. "It’s important that we shared experiences, which we did."
While noting that his status remains day-to-day after suffering a leg injury in September, Paunovic expects Schweinsteiger to be available for selection Wednesday barring any setbacks. As he looks to be fit for the knockout clash, Schweinsteiger was succinct in summarizing the task at hand.
"It doesn’t matter if at the end you’re third or sixth. At the end of the day, you have to be there at 7:30 on Wednesday at Toyota Park."