CHICAGO – There will be plenty of international star power in the Orlando City Stadium midfield Sunday when Bastian Schweinsteiger and Kaká face off for the first time in MLS. But the match also brings together Schweinsteiger and Orlando City midfielder Will Johnson, two players who were at the center of something of a minor international soccer incident last time they crossed paths.
In the 89th minute of the 2014 MLS All-Star Game at Providence Park, Johnson, then an All-Star with the hosting Portland Timbers, clattered into Schweinsteiger, then with Bayern Munich. The German went down immediately with an injury to his ankle, while Johnson looked apologetic and was shown a yellow card.
On the sideline, however, Bayern Munich manager Pep Guardiola was miffed, especially since he was already frustrated about an earlier Osvaldo Alonso tackle that had also earned a yellow card. When the final whistle blew shortly thereafter, Guardiola wagged his finger at All-Star coach Caleb Porter, refusing a handshake and then ignoring the MLS coach.
Every involved party tried to downplay it afterward, with Guardiola admitting he was mad about the injury but saying, “I didn’t see them," in reference to the handshake.
This week, almost three years later, neither Schweinsteiger nor Johnson wanted to make much of the incident. Schweinsteiger said he didn’t have much memory of it, saying “it happens in a game,” and adding that he hadn’t even been aware of the Guardiola-Porter situation. Johnson insisted he had just been playing hard and planned to approach this important Eastern Conference match just the same.
“I will approach [Sunday’s game] the same as I approach every game,” Johnson said. “And All-Star Games for me are the same – I try to win, I try to compete. Obviously that was an unfortunate incident that happened; you never like to see guys get hurt. But it’s a contact sport and things unfortunately happen.”
Despite the injury, Schweinsteiger said he remembers that game fondly, and as an early starting point in considering a move to MLS.
“That game was actually a very good memory because it was the first time that I experienced life at an MLS match,'' Schweinsteiger said. "Well it was the All-Star Game, but the atmosphere and everything around soccer, it was quite huge, it was very good. I remember the day, it was with my brother on the bench (in the) first half and we were talking about maybe there is a chance to play once in MLS. So it was a good memory.”
As for Sunday’s meeting in Orlando, Johnson sounded more worried about how the German international has the Fire streaking up the Eastern Conference table, rather than any awkwardness over their last meeting.
“I think he’s been a fantastic signing for Chicago and I think he’s been a huge part of what they do,” Johnson said. “He’s also been a fantastic signing for the league in general. His [continued] quality on the field has surprised many, many people, so I just look forward to competing against him again. I think it will be a wonderful night here against a very, very good Chicago team.”
The Fire currently sit in second place in the East, one point ahead of Orlando City. Chicago, though, will have to handle their first match of the season without Schweinsteiger’s midfield partner Dax McCarty, who has played every minute of the season thus far, before being called away with the USMNT.
“They have a very good team, they’re dangerous, especially at home they are good,” Schweinsteiger said. “So we have to prepare ourselves, obviously Kaká is a great player, I have a lot of respect for him and yeah, looking forward to playing the game. Orlando, I think it’s a nice stadium – new, right? We’re looking forward to the match. I hope we can try to win there or have a good game.”
(Simon Veness contributed reporting to this story from Orlando)