Nobody can or will, in good conscience, look at the Chicago Fire's 2017 roster and think to themselves "Gee, they need help in central midfield most of all." Chicago won the offseason (according to San Stejskal, anyway) in large part because they traded for Dax McCarty and acquired Juninho via the allocation order. They still have Matt Polster, who was excellent as a rookie in 2015 and is loaded with potential and will be back soonish from injury.
They signed Homegrown central midfielder Djordje Mihailovic, who's one of the brightest lights in the US youth national team setup, and they have Homegrown central midfielder Cam Lindley – another of the brightest lights in the USYNT set-up – marinating in college at North Carolina. Also at North Carolina is Homegrown central defender Mauricio Pineda, who you could argue is actually better at defensive midfield. They drafted Brandt Bronico, who I like quite a bit, and who is definitely a central midfielder.
On Tuesday morning, they signed German legend and World Cup winner Bastian Schweinsteiger to a one-year, $4.5 million DP contract. Schweinsteiger is a central midfielder.
Schweinsteiger, who is 32, is no doubt the most talented and accomplished of the above cadre of players, and is by any measure one of the most talented and accomplished players ever to put pen to paper on an MLS contract. Full disclosure: He is my favorite non-Xavi central midfielder of this century, and I would be thrilled to see him sign anywhere in the league.
But this is very clearly a risk. He's suffered a series of knee injuries over the last few years, and his games played per season looks like this:
- 2012/13: 45
- 2013/14: 36
- 2014/15: 28
- 2015/16: 31
- 2016/17: 4
Granted that final number isn't directly because of injury, but rather because Jose Mourinho is Jose Mourinho and he requires runners in midfield. Schweinsteiger is not that anymore.
He can still play, though. He's looked very good in his very few, very brief (134 minutes only, and none in the league!) outings for Manchester United this season, as classy in possession as he is limited defense and in transition. Since Day 1 with the Red Devils – he moved to Man U from Bayern Munich before the 2015/16 season – that's been the case, and that just couldn't work for The Special One.
MLS is a different beast than the EPL, so I don't doubt that if Schweinsteiger is fit, he'll adjust. Still, I do question said fit alongside (or presumably in front of?) McCarty and Juninho. All three of those guys are better deeper, but one of them (if it's a 4-2-1-3) or two of them (if it's a 4-1-2-3) will have to play higher up the field and spend more time unlocking defenses rather than dictating tempo. None of them excels at that, either on or off the ball.
It's a hard ask. We all tend to see the technical components first – first touch and passing vision are the big ones – but there's so much more to creating danger and penetration than individual skill:
We will indeed. Nemanja Nikolic will continue along as the center forward with David Accam wide left, and Michael De Leeuw as a hybrid winger/forward out right. In terms of raw talent there aren't many front sixes in the league that are clearly superior.
Soccer, however, is a holistic game. The best teams almost always put out a squad playing at a level greater than the sum of its parts.
It'll be Veljko Paunovic's job to coax that out of this group, even if the fit may not be right.