Paunovic, Schweinsteiger not ready to talk about future as Chicago Fire are eliminated

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. — For the Chicago Fire and their fans, Sunday afternoon began as an opportunity to say farewell to their home of 14 seasons in Bridgeview, Illinois. Nostalgia mixed with renewed hope for their future in downtown Chicago, but some of the sweetness of the day faded as New England’s concurrent win over NYCFC officially eliminated the Fire from the playoff chase while the chance for one final win at SeatGeek Stadium slipped away in a 2-2 draw with Toronto FC.

The crowd of 17,748 was both one of the largest and most energetic of the season, erupting as Chicago clawed back from a 1-0 deficit to take a 2-1 lead, only for Omar Gonzalez to extinguish any remaining hope with an 88th minute equalizer.

“[The supporters] did their jobs, and unfortunately the players — we just came up a little bit short,” Fire captain Dax McCarty said after the game. “I think the story of the game is the story of our season, right? A lot of opportunities kind of go by the wayside and we can’t quite close it out.”

The playoff chase now officially over, attention is now squarely focused on the future. New ownership and a new stadium are settled, but there is no shortage of questions about how much change there will be both on and off the field for the Fire between now and next spring, when they make their return to Soldier Field.

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Those questions will have to wait for another week, though, as head coach Veljko Paunovic said his current focus is on not overlooking next Sunday’s season finale in Orlando.

“After that, we’ll see,” he said. “There will be time to discuss the future.”

Equally uncertain is the future of German World Cup winner Bastian Schweinsteiger, who turned 35 last month and is by far the club’s highest-paid player. New owner Joe Mansueto confirmed to Extratime earlier this month that changes will be coming in the Designated Player positions, but first the former German international and World Cup winner must decide whether to continue his career.

“I don’t know yet,” Schweinsteiger said. “I will see how it will be, [in the] next weeks I will probably decide.”

The future of much of the roster, not just the Designated Players, will need to be addressed in the coming months as well. The Fire have the league’s third-highest payroll, but that spending did not lead to success in 2019.

“I’m sure everyone gave his best,” Schweinsteiger said. “But the question’s always how good is the best? I see how well we played against a team like Toronto…Atlanta, even LAFC. We are not worse than them in my eyes but they are more consistent and they have maybe a bit more goals.”

Schweinsteiger is confident the club is heading in the right direction, whether or not he is a part of its future, and has confidence in the city he’s called home for the past three years.

“I think the city of Chicago has a huge potential,” he said, echoing the messaging of new owner Mansueto. “I think Joe is very smart and that he will for sure make the right decisions.”

 


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