There's no doubt that Bastian Schweinsteiger's move to the Chicago Fire provided the club with an instant uptick in relevance, across the soccer world and beyond.
For a franchise that has very much slipped to "MLS has-been" in recent years, the hype alone made for a success story. Nearly a decade has passed since the Fire generated much discussion beyond pinpointing the worst team in MLS.
But when Chicago took the field against the Montreal Impact on Saturday, the sweeping storylines of marketing and mentality turned to background noise. For 90 minutes, the MLS diehards got their first look at a more nuanced question.
How will Schweinsteiger fit into a crowded Fire midfield?
Chicago's average formation against Montreal on Saturday. Note the positions of Dax McCarty (6), Bastian Schweinsteiger (31) and Juninho (19).
Schweinsteiger's touches against Montreal.
Frozen out at Manchester United or not, Schweinsteiger is the type of player you simply sign if you have the chance and figure out the details later. At 32 years old, the World Cup winner should have plenty left in the tank. For all of the talk that MLS is trending toward younger designated players, it's easy to forget that the reigning MVP — New York City FC star David Villa — is 35 years old.
Schweinsteiger, however, does present a dilemma. In Dax McCarty and Juninho, the Fire already added a pair of All-Star defensive midfielders. The Schweinsteiger signing marked yet another substantial investment in a player typically deployed as a deep-lying playmaker.
In the 2-2 draw with Montreal, Fire coach Veljko Paunovic showed us how he intends to address that dilemma. Turning to a 4-3-3 formation, Paunovic deployed McCarty at the base of the midfield and slotted the other two in advanced roles — Schweinsteiger leaning to the left, Juninho floating to the right.
"Having the strongest possible midfield is essential for how we want to play," Paunovic said upon Schweinsteiger's signing. "We see Bastian helping our organization of the attack, and impacting the final third buildup with his vision and creativity to produce the final pass, as well as his capacity to score goals."
Through one match, Paunovic's vision already has become reality. Schweinsteiger embraced a role underneath striker Nemanja Nikolic, connecting on 59 of 68 passes and winning a week-high 15 duels. The German also drifted to the left flank to combine with winger David Accam and helped dictate possession by dropping deep at times.
And that goes without mentioning the obvious impact Schweinsteiger made in the final third. He only needed 17 minutes to open his MLS scoring account, emphatically heading home an Accam cross. And he helped reduce Montreal to 10 men, hitting the killer through ball that forced Victor Cabrera into a red card-inducing tackle on Luis Solignac.
McCarty had a fine afternoon as well, completing 76 of 86 passes, winning seven duels and setting up Solignac's last-gasp equalizer. The only player who looked a bit out of sorts was Juninho, who didn't find much of a rhythm before exiting with a harsh 71st-minute red card.
Schweinsteiger looked right at home, though. Even if the Fire hadn't acquired McCarty and Juninho, would they have wanted the new face of the franchise anywhere else? Schweinsteiger may still wear his iconic No. 31, but he fits the bill as Chicago's No. 10.
Trapp key to Crew surge
Wil Trapp's passing chart against Orlando on Saturday.
Wil Trapp's return from a concussion was a major reason the Columbus Crew made their run to the MLS Cup final in 2015. The homegrown midfielder's growing pains then contributed to a disappointing 2016, in which Columbus missed out on the postseason.
On the strength of three straight victories, the Crew have quietly risen to the top of the Eastern Conference. At the center of that surge is Trapp, who has cleanly kept the ball moving and put the Columbus playmakers in a position to succeed.
The Crew's 2-0 win over Orlando City on Saturday was far from a vintage performance from Columbus, which was outshot 14-6 and triumphed via a pair of Justin Meram strikes on the counter. But Trapp turned in a 75-for-81 passing day and was particularly proficient at changing the point of attack against an Orlando team that can be vulnerable on the flanks.
Trapp's next test? Winning the battle against Schweinsteiger and Co. in that new-look Fire midfield Saturday.
Haris Medunjanin created five scoring chances in the Philadelphia Union's 2-1 loss to D.C. United on Saturday, topping all players in Week 5. In fact, the Bosnian midfielder leads MLS with 13 chances created this season. It's much-needed creativity out of a deep-lying midfield role for a Union team waiting for playmaker Alejandro Bedoya (four chances created) to find a groove. ...
Just behind Medunjanin this week is Alphonso Davies, who carved out four chances in the Vancouver Whitecaps' 3-2 win over the LA Galaxy. And the trade that sent Kekuta Manneh to Columbus for Tony Tchani should free up even more minutes for the talented 16-year-old. ...
Speaking of enticing prospects, Marco Farfan looks like a real find for the Portland Timbers. The 18-year-old left back made his second MLS appearance in Sunday's 1-1 draw with the New England Revolution and more than held his own, leading MLS this week with eight tackles won.
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