BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – Bastian Schweinsteiger comes in to Chicago with the hope of Fire supporters resting on his shoulders.
After enduring their two worst seasons in club history with consecutive last-place finishes in the table, the Fire brought Schweinsteiger in as arguably their most important piece to build their turnaround upon, as head coach Veljko Paunovic and general manager Nelson Rodriguez continue working to put together a team that is playoff-worthy, after missing the playoffs in six of the last seven seasons.
Those efforts took another step forward on Wednesday as the Fire unveiled former German international and Manchester United midfielder Schweinsteiger at The PrivateBank Fire Pitch in Chicago.
"I can tell you that today our plan is already different [from this offseason]. You have to see how much his presence influences us, and how important it was for our players," Paunovic said during Wednesday's press conference. "The mood, the atmosphere, everything was inspired. I think we got not only a world class player, but a world class person. A man who can inspire our players, our fans, and our city. I think Bastian can be the icon of MLS in the future."
Schweinsteiger's entrance to league play could be immediate, according to Paunovic, who hedged at revealing too much of his plans for Saturday's game against Montreal (2 pm CT, CSN+). Still, he did not shy away from indicating the Designated Player would see minutes against the Impact.
"Obviously he's going to be available," Paunovic said. "We still have to talk and discuss how he feels and more things about the team and how we want to play, so be ready."
Much of the question surrounding Schweinsteiger's addition to the team has centered around the now-crowded central midfield that includes himself, Juninho, and Dax McCarty, as well as Matt Polster, the lone holdover of the group who is recovering from a preseason injury. While both Paunovic and Rodriguez have indicated that Schweinsteiger would play a more advanced role, the German midfielder said he is comfortable wherever Paunovic needs him.
"I'm very comfortable in any position on the field," he told reporters. "I remember one time in Munich I was also playing as a winger, sometimes as a fullback. I can play different positions."
Schweinsteiger also doesn't feel any pressure coming to Chicago as the marquee player in a franchise that has had its share of struggles in recent years, and has lacked a marquee name since Cuauhtemoc Blanco's departure after the 2009 season.
"I've had a lot of pressure in my career. When you play a World Cup final, or a Champions League final for the third time, and you have to win against Borussia Dortmund there is a little bit of pressure.
"I can handle that, but I don't want to say that I'm the key player in Chicago. Every player on the pitch has to be a key player, has to take responsibility on the pitch and I would like to contribute myself to the team as much as I can."
Jeff Krause is a contributor for MLSsoccer.com.