A few months ago, Bastian Schweinsteiger led the Chicago Fire in a masterful performance against the New England Revolution. Thirty minutes in the Revs were down to 10 men and right before halftime Basti had his second MLS goal.
We will not speak of this ever again in New England.
Unfortunately, Sean Spence of Hot Time In Old Town is here to remind us of that game, which may have been the start of the Fire actually being good at soccer again for the first time in about a decade. So it’s time to give Basti a proper MLS welcome on the glorious turf of Gillette Stadium, assuming he plays on turf.
Anyway, head on over to HTIOT for my answers to Sean’s questions where we talk about why the analytics love New England and take prop bets on whether Je-Vaughn Watson starts today.
TBM: Two months ago the Fire pounced on a 10-man Revs team, did Chicago learn anything from that game?
SP: In Chicago we started to rediscover the fun of rooting for a better-than-good team. The game itself we primarily remember as the debut of Bastian Schweinsteiger, because Je-Vaughn Watson's ass-clown act really kinda crushed its potential as a competitive contest - the Fire had 75% possession, fergawdsake.
For myself, I remember it primarily as a game where everyone watched Basti like a hawk. It's hard to remember now, but there were concerns that Schweinsteiger wouldn't be able to handle the strain of MLS, or that he'd somehow grown decrepit practicing with Manchester United's reserves. Two months later, he's fully fit and completely integrated into the side.
TBM: The Fire have been dominant at home, currently seven games unbeaten and five wins in six, but how can they get more road wins like they did in DC a few weeks ago?
SP: Keep playing good football? There's no great secret to the Fire's improving form on the road - they're just playing better, smarter football with better, smarter players who are starting to really fight for each other. If Basti plays Saturday - and there's some talk that he may invoke Thierry Henry exception and skip the turf in Foxboro - watch the communication between he and Dax any time the Fire struggle to find an answer for something on the field. Velko Paunovic is going to win coaching awards this year because of those pow-wows.
What it means on the field is the Fire are just hard to beat comprehensively, because it's not just a matter of finding a weakness in the Chicago shape and then ruthlessly exploiting it, as it is for most MLS sides. With those two on the field, any exposed weakness gets covered and you'll have to look for Plans B, C and D. I can't emphasize enough how insane this is as someone who's covered the team closely for years. After years as, frankly, one of the dumbest teams in a league whose soccer reputation is a bit blunt-edged, to suddenly cover a team capable of the kind of movement and thought this group brings is like watching the game on laughing gas.
All that said, New England is a team with several guys who can make a difference if given a chance, and the game is on turf, a surface which traditionally elicits a sort of anesthetized confusion from the Fire. They poke at it tenuously, as if unsure it will support the weight of their passing. I'm hoping we don't see that.
TBM: What has gotten into Nemanja Nikolic? Explain his turnaround this season.
SP: I wouldn't call it a turnaround - this Niko is the one we were waiting for. It did take him a while to get settled and into rhythm, but he always made good runs and got into good spaces. Once his teammates figured out where he wants the ball, he's basically scored a goal a game. It's exactly what he did last season in Poland, and essentially every season for the last three seasons wherever he's played - he's relentless, he's always running, and those runs are fucking cunning. His finishing has gotten better and better as he's grown into his myth of himself.
The Fire are remarkably healthy right now, and rested all three DPs plus Joao Meira against Saint Louis FC in the Open Cup. The only questions around lineups have to do with turf and form - will Juninho go back to the bench, or will Basti sit this one out? Or will all three central midfielders start, with one of Michael de Leeuw, David Accam or Luis Solignac rotated to the bench?
4-2-3-1: Matt Lampson; Brandon Vincent, Joao Meira, Johan Kappelhof, Matt Polster; Dax McCarty, Bastian Schweinsteiger; David Accam, Michael de Leeuw, Luis Solignac; Nemanja Nikolic.
If you need a prediction, I'd say the Fire stay on their unbeaten run but can't get all three points on the turf - a 2-2 draw.