Published on March 21st, 2017 | by Jeff Engelhardt


How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Schweinsteiger Signing

The Chicago Fire has signed Bastian Schweinsteiger.

It’s been rumored for months, but it feels a bit surreal now that the moment has finally come. The Fire —  the butt of jokes league wide and the doormat of MLS — shattered their reputation and made one of the most historic signings in league history.

No incoming player has ever carried a resume quite like the German legend. The club has already boasted about how Schweinsteiger has lifted 23 trophies, more than any previous MLS signing, with David Beckham coming in at second with 19.

The aesthetics of the signing are wonderful. He is a massive name, a World Cup champion, a beloved player around the world and is coming to the third largest media market in the United States. For the general sports fan in Chicago that pays little if any attention to soccer, Schweinsteiger is a reason to check out a Fire game.  For the Eurocentric soccer fans, he might just be a reason to make multiple trips to Toyota Park.

But for the dedicated Fire fans who have followed the team and league for years, the signing is not universally loved. Surely a signing of this magnitude should mean the most to the club’s most ardent supporters, but years of futility, empty promises and failed Designated Player signings have programmed a sort of pessimism and skepticism that is not easily undone. The result is a divide between the club’s most passionate fans with some overjoyed and others exasperated.

I understand the concerns, really, I do. But I am here to tell you it’s time to stop worrying and learn to love the signing. It’s not blind adulation or kowtowing to the front office just because they signed a big name. You can still rage against the man and accept this signing for what it is – a gift to Chicago.

That’s not to say I know that this move will be a success. One scroll through Twitter and you’ll see the numbers that may give you pause. Only 12 assists since 2013. Only 134 minutes played since August. Is he out of gas? Can he still play? No one, including those critical, can answer with any certainty until he takes the field and proves it one way or the other.

But that’s how it has been with every big international signing. Remember Jermain Defoe? He was a 31-year-old from Europe who looked to have a promising future with Toronto FC. But he never felt settled and only spent one season of a four-year deal in Toronto.

Then again, there are also old men like David Villa, Andrea Pirlo and Kaka who have all had some level of success in MLS recently. Villa apparently wasn’t too old to remember to win an MVP. Of course every situation is different and Schweinsteiger has his own injury history and recent inactivity to deal with. The point is predicting how he will translate to MLS is nearly impossible, but he shouldn’t be criticized for being 32 years old. And the club shouldn’t be accused of resurrecting the “retirement league” mentality just because it signed a 32-year-old player. It has been done successfully before and there are enough valid reasons to criticize the club as is.

For once though, it’s the Fire taking the gamble and that is worth celebrating. At one year, $4.5 million, Chicago is saying it’s going for broke right now. It’s watched Jermaine Jones slip through its fingers and Didier Drogba, who was also an old man.

But in the end, they land the most decorated player who has ever signed with MLS. On its face — outside of winning and losing and what it means for the tactical setup of the team – that is worth celebrating.

In a “what have you done for me lately society,” it can be hard to remember the Fire really has no business signing a player of Schweinsteiger’s caliber to begin with. A signing like this seemed impossible, and probably was, as recent as two seasons ago.

There will be time to complain about what happens on the field, but the only reason to criticize this move right now is so the critic can say “see, I told you so,” later on. And that is fickle.

Bringing in Schweinsteiger should not stop the team from addressing needs at right back or elsewhere. Bringing in Schweinsteiger should not create a quantum physics level problem just because Dax McCarty and Juninho are on the roster. Veljko Paunovic should be able to figure that one out without calling in Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Players come and go and winning comes and goes. But to this day you can find fans who say they first fell in love with the club because they watched Cuauhtémoc Blanco. He helped build a culture. He helped expand the Fire family. Schweinsteiger can do the same. And believe it or not, he might even help the team win.

So learn to love the signing, because it is great, beyond just the wins and losses. It is fun, it’s exciting, it’s engaging and it’s worth celebrating. But I suppose if you really can’t learn to love it and it does indeed blow up in the Fire’s face, you can tell me “see, I told you so.” And I guess I’ll call you smart. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy it.

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