BASTIEN THE SWEEPER
Bastian Schweinsteiger is a German legend, 121 international caps to his name having amassed a body of work with Bayern Munich so spectacular it is beyond comprehension. Admittedly lesser so at Manchester United but he has picked back up at Chicago Fire, starting in the 2017 season and continuing to the current campaign.
For many years he has been firmly entrenched as a defensive midfielder, a screen and an enforcer. Not so during this campaign. After a disappointing start to the season where Chicago conceded six goals in two games, combined with a worrying defensive injury list, head coach Veljko Paunovic moved Schweinsteiger back into a new sweeper role against Portland Timbers that even the experienced German will have rarely played in.
Despite initial scepticism, Rundown can only stand and admire the results as Schweinsteiger combined a solid defensive display with two assists to be named Man of the Match after a 2 – 2 draw (also known as a Desmond). This past weekend the German was again instrumental in the team’s first clean sheet and first win of the season over Columbus Crew.
“He can play in any position and always impacts the game in a positive way,” Paunovic said after the 1 – 0 triumph. “He can play as a [No.] 10, he can play as a 9, and he can even play as a goalkeeper. Bastian is exceptional and I am very thankful to our owner and general manager for doing everything in their power to bring him here last season, because this way we can get the best results from our team. I think last season, and he showed it in this game, that Bastian also enters into distinct roles throughout the game and he has no problem doing so.”
Columbus had chances and Gyasi Zardes continued his good form since departing LA Galaxy as part of an offence that deserved a goal, only to come up against Bastien Schweinsteiger in a position that puts Rundown in mind of Dave Mackay’s role under Brian Clough at Derby County.
“Last year we conceded a lot of goals, and we also gave away easy goals also in our first games against Kansas [City], Minnesota and Portland,” Schweinsteiger himself added. “Even today, I have to be honest, we gave away some chances for Columbus to score a goal. We still have to work on that, we still have to learn, develop playing against the ball, we have to defend. But what I like is the mentality of the team. Even if it’s hard, we never give up and we try to help each other and that, for me, is very important. That’s why I’m very happy that we won this game because it should give us confidence.”
The reaction to the move of position has been mixed across the Chicago Fire squad with Mexican goalkeeper Richard Sánchez benefiting from Schweinsteiger’s switch to record his first clean sheet of the campaign.
“Somebody of his calibre and the experience he has, it’s great to have on the team,” Sanchez, 24, said of playing behind a defence marshalled by the former Bayern Munich and Manchester United midfielder. “I learn from him day in and day out, and even off the field, he is a great person. I admire him for what he does for us in the club and I hope to continue learning from him. However Pauno decides to put him, I think Basti has been able to adapt, obviously, and he’s been a great help.”
However, Yugoslavian-born Hungarian striker Nemanja Nikolic, the reigning MLS Golden Boot holder, has a different opinion. He scored the winning goal against Columbus Crew having pounced like a vulture on a poor Zack Steffen pass in the 27th minute before slotting home.
“Me, as a striker, I want him close to me because he plays good balls into space, he sees really good on the pitch, like also Dax [McCarty], they are really good players on the pitch for us in the middle, they give us the balance,” Nikolic said. “But, you know, one player cannot be everywhere, so sometimes we need to make decisions and we also practised a couple of formations we want to play. Sometimes Basti is behind, sometimes he is, like in the second half, he was close to the goal … I like Basti more close to the striker, but on the other hand, I know that sometimes he’s also an important part for the defence.”
AN ITALIAN JOB CROSSED WITH A SPANISH ACQUISITION
Three players Rundown expects to see in Major League Soccer are Iker Casillas, and the Juventus midfield duo of Sammy Khedira and Claudio Marchisio.
According to Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, the two Juventus players are considering making the jump after the end of the current European season with Marchisio particularly linked with NYCFC.
Meanwhile, Chicago Fire are looking to add to the defence with Casillas after initially being linked with the stopper over the winter, they are interested in acquiring the 36-year-old in the summer transfer window. Interestingly the former Real Madrid goalkeeper has just regained the starting spot in Porto’s first team after spending the first half of the season on the bench. He’s out of contract after this season, meaning Chicago would be able to sign him for free in July. One of the most decorated goalkeepers in the history of the sport, Casillas won five La Liga titles and three UEFA Champions League crowns in his time with Real Madrid and started for Spain during their runs to the 2008 UEFA European Championship, 2010 World Cup and 2012 European Championship. He made his 1,000th career professional appearance in Porto’s 2-0 loss to Belenenses on this past week.
MBIA THE NEXT ADDITION FOR ATLANTA
There is a defensive midfield hole in the Atlanta United squad but it appears to be well on the way to being filled as Cameroon defender Stephane Mbia has followed up reports indicating Atlanta’s interest in the 31-year-old by attending Saturday’s 5-0 victory against LAFC and was seen chatting with executives Carlos Bocanegra and Paul McDonough.
Mbia would be an ideal signing for the Five Stripes, who have sought to bolster their spine following Carlos Carmona’s transfer to Colo Colo in the offseason.
NEW CONTRACT FOR OLA
One of the by-products of the signing of a certain tall, impressive, ruggedly handsome Swede is a concern for Ola Kamara’s position. Rundown does recall suggesting that Kamara could play alongside Zlatan in a role similar to the one Edinson Cavani performed for PSG.
ESPN’s Jeff Carlisle has broken the news that LA Galaxy have signed forward Ola Kamara to a new three-year contract that will put his annual salary at around $1 million.
Since joining the league with Columbus Crew SC in 2016, the 28-year-old Kamara has scored 35 goals and 5 assists in 62 MLS matches to date. He was traded to LA on January 20th, with Gyasi Zardes and at least $400,000 of Targeted Allocation Money going to Columbus.
History has been made as Video Review have overturned a red card in MLS for the first time. In the opening minute of play, referee Ted Unkel showed Atlanta defender Chris McCann a straight red card for a challenge on LAFC midfielder Benny Feilhaber in midfield. But after Video Review, Unkel reversed the call, instead giving McCann a yellow card and summoning him back onto the field. McCann continued to play the full 90 minutes in Atlanta’s 5-0 victory
Meanwhile CONCACAF’s Disciplinary Committee have been busy, fining both Toronto FC and Club América an undisclosed amount as the teams engaged in a physical clash in the tunnel at BMO Field at halftime of Tuesday’s 3-1 win for TFC in the first leg of that semifinal series.
“After due examination of the evidence gathered during their investigation and based on the Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League Regulations, and the FIFA Disciplinary Code, the Committee determined that Toronto FC and Club America clearly infringed the Competition Regulations, specifically Art. 52 of the FIFA Disciplinary Code which covers team conduct. In levying the fines for general team misconduct during the halftime of Tuesday’s semifinal match in Toronto, the Committee expressed that it considers the clubs’ conduct unacceptable, as it departs from the principles of Fair Play,” the confederation explained in a statement.
In addition, the Disciplinary Committee has suspended Chivas de Guadalajara defender Jair Pereira for two games in the CCL. The player was judged to have committed “an act of physical aggression against an opponent, while the ball was not in play,” according to the statement. Specifically, Pereira joined in a scuffle between Chivas and the New York Red Bulls in Wednesday’s clash at Estadio Akron, and choked Red Bulls midfielder Sean Davis during the stoppage in play, but did not see any sanction during the match. Pereira will therefore be suspended for the return leg at the Red Bull Arena.
Thank you for reading the MLS Rundown, a twice-weekly column focused on news, rumours and transfers. If you would like to connect with the writer, please do so on twitter @CT_MLS