Bastian Schweinsteiger returns to event that sowed his MLS interest

CHICAGO – As the MLS All-Stars worked their way through their open training session on Tuesday, fans kept serenading Bastian Schweinsteiger with a verse or two of “Happy Birthday” from different corners of Soldier Field.

The newly 33-year-old Chicago Fire midfielder and All-Star captain seemed in good spirits as he spent his birthday preparing with the MLS team for Wednesday's 2017 MLS All-Star Game presented by Target (8:30 pm ET | FS1, Univision; TSN, TVAS), a uniquely American event that yet holds a special place in the German superstar's heart.

It may be his first appearance as an MLS All-Star, but it's his second in the match. Three years ago, fresh off a World Cup title, Schweinsteiger played with Bayern Munich against the All-Stars in Portland, an experience he said put him on the path to MLS.

“I think it’s a very good idea of the league,” Schweinsteiger said. “To be honest, I was playing in the All-Star Game in 2014 … and actually there I fell in love with the MLS. I was there with my brother and we were sitting the first half on the bench together …  I could feel the atmosphere and the positive atmosphere in the stadium, the supporters and you could feel in the eyes of the people how much it means for them.

“I really enjoyed it a lot and I actually said to my brother, ‘Why not play once in the MLS?’ So it started like this, I hope maybe players from Real Madrid experience the same so they can come over and play in this league.”

In addition to recruiting Real Madrid players, Schweinsteiger was asked about previous comments regarding former Manchester United teammate Zlatan Ibrahimovic potentially coming to MLS. Without specifically focusing on the Swedish forward, Schweinsteiger instead made a wider case for the continued growth of the league.

“I mean, [I] spoke about Thomas Muller could also come here and play here,” Schweinsteiger said. “MLS is growing. ... But in a global sport like soccer, the league is still not on the same level as let’s say the Premier League or Bundesliga. Of course, the league is young, there’s not such a big history like in Europe, but the goal should be in 10 years to be on the same level like the Bundesliga or the English league. That would be great.

“I hope everyone tries to increase the level of the MLS and also American players like Pulisic … other players as well, that they are here and not in Europe. That should be the goal for America and I just try to help so much as I can to contribute. It’s also great that you have this kind of player like Michael Bradley here in America, he’s helping a lot too to increase the level of the league. But Zlatan is more than welcome.”

He even once again fielded that infamous question about winning the World Cup. This time he was ready for the joke.

“When you play against Real Madrid, for me, for Michael, for everyone on our team, you want to win against the best team in Europe,” Schweinsteiger said. “If we can beat them, maybe then we can also look forward to win the World Cup.”

Kidding aside, Schweinsteiger clearly seems to be soaking in the experience, from making sure to learn the first names of his teammates (which he said he had struggled with at first), to consciously trying to avoid the traditional post-match shirt swap.

“My goal is to keep my MLS All-Star jersey for myself," he said, "because it’s my first one.”