Photo by Jeff Vorva
Bastian Schweinsteiger walks near his large likeness on March 29 during his introductory press conference in Chicago.
COLUMBUS CREW AT FIRE
When: 1 p.m., Saturday
Where: Toyota Park, Bridgeview
Fire’s record: 1-1-2
Crew’s record: 3-1-1
Noteworthy: The two teams opened the season with a 1-1 tie in Columbus on March 4. Since then Columbus has scored nine more points to take the lead in the MLS East.
‘Shambolic’ defensive play tempers Basti’s debut
On the field, they celebrated.
In the locker room, they seethed.
And that might be a good thing. Settling for a tie is not the way some of the new Chicago Fire players want to conduct business.
Fire players saw the Major Soccer League debut of German star Bastian Schweinsteiger -- and he scored 17 minutes in on a header – and went wild in the 93rd minute when Luis Solignac scored a game-tying goal.
But when they went into the Toyota Park tunnel after tying Montreal 2-2, things changed.
“I have strong feelings about losing two points,” second-year Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said. “I saw a locker room that was not happy with a point and that’s something that I actually wanted to see.’’
Dex McCarty, who played in just his fourth match with the Fire and was not around when the team finished with the worst record in the MLS the past two seasons, was blunt after his team fell to 1-1-2 in front of an announced crowd of 15,103. He didn’t see the tie as the glass half full.
“You get an equalizer in the 93rd minute and you want to be happy and you want to feel like it’s a positive, but it’s not,’’ McCarty said. “It not a good result in the least bit. It’s a terrible result, actually. It’s going to be tough watching video (of this match).
“Defensively, it was just shambolic the way we conceded those two goals. If you want to win games in this league, it’s impossible if we concede soft goals like that. If you are going to concede goals like that at home, you are in for a long season. It was good character to come back and score, but it was two points lost.’’
Even the man of the hour, the international star known as ‘Basti’, couldn’t fully enjoy his debut.
“I like having a clean sheet,” he said. “And I like it when we can score two or three goals.’’
Montreal (0-1-3) scored both goals in the second half as Mattero Mancosu scored in the 61st minute and Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla scored in the 90th minute in a goal that appeared to doom the Fire. But officials allowed six minutes of extra time and that allowed Solignac to knot it up.
The game was full of yellow cards – six in all – and for the second game in a row, the Fire played a portion of the game a man down because of a red card after Juninho was shown his second yellow card in the 71st minute.
Unlike the Fire’s 4-0 loss at expansion Atlanta on March 18 when Johan Kappelhof received a red card in the 11th minute, the Fire only had to play 10 minutes with a disadvantage Saturday after Montreal’s Victor Cabrera received a red card for a professional (otherwise known as deliberate) foul.
The 32-year-old Schweinsteiger, who signed a one-year, $4.5 million deal with an option, made his presence felt right way with the opening goal.
“That’s everyone dream, to score a goal in your first game,” Paunovic said.
“It was a good feeling, of course,” Schweinsteiger said. “But I’m not so happy that we couldn’t win.’’
Basti one of 10
Schweinsteiger, who was signed in March to a one-year, $4.5 million deal by the Fire, became the 10th player in club history to score in his debut as his header found the mark in the 17th minute of a 2-2 tie with Montreal on Saturday.
It’s the first time it happened since Benji Joya scored in his debut on March 9, 2014 against Chivas USA.
Diego Chaves and Josh Wolff are the only two players in Fire history to score goals in their first two games, so Schweinsteiger has a shot at that on Saturday when the Fire hosts Columbus.
Fire coach Veljko Paunovic did not plan on using his new star for a full game but said circumstances warranted it.
“We had to make our decision on what was happening on the field,” the coach said. “The red card (on Juninho which put the team at a one-man disadvantage for 10 minutes) … all these things you can’t predict.’’
Fire General Manager Nelson Rodriguez said Fire fans are going to love this guy.
“What you see on the field is this unique combination of elegance with grit,” Rodriguez said. “It’s sophistication that’s covered in sweat. All of us that work on a daily basis can appreciate that.
“What you don’t see, and this is why we are so thrilled to have him, is the character. He has the true identity of a champion. It’s formed in the generosity of spirit and kindness and of giving that Bastian seems to have in limitless capacity. He seeks to give and not to take. He seeks to offer and not to ask.’’
The next Beckham?
At Schweinsteiger’s press conference on March 29, he was asked if he could be the next David Beckham – an international star who raised awareness of Major League Soccer when he joined the LA Galaxy in 2007.
“I don’t think about it,” he said. “I just want to help this team and help the people in Chicago to watch soccer. You have a very good baseball team, a very good ice hockey team, a very good football team and I hope soon a very good soccer team.’’
His coach thinks there is a chance Basti will have a Beckham-like impact.
“He can be the icon of the MLS,’’ Paunovic said.
“Much has been written about Basti all over the world,” Rodriguez added. “He does not see himself as a soccer deity. I think this is precisely what makes him an extraordinary man and a special person. We are incredibly lucky in Chicago to have Bastian with us.’’
Schweinsteiger picked up the nickname “Giorgio Armani” from teammates in the past for his sharp taste in clothes.
“I like Giorgio Armani’s stuff very much,” he said. “Maybe we can meet each other…’’
“An entire club sponsorship is available,” Rodriguez added.
Making the team better
Paunovic said Schweinsteiger made a difference in his first practice with the Fire.
“Our club is already different,” Paunovic said shortly after the March 28 practice. “You have to see how much his presence (affects) our players. We had a fantastic training…the mood, the atmosphere…everyone was inspired by him. Everyone wanted to give their best. We got not only a world-class player but a world-class person.
“I think he can inspire our players, our fans and our city.’’