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Ostracized at United, Schweinsteiger to lead Chicago offense

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Bastian Schweinsteiger arrived at Manchester United from Bayern Munich in the summer of 2015 amid plenty of promise.

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He leaves with plenty of question marks surrounding his time in the Premier League and has spent close to 12 months in the shadows.

Schweinsteiger, 32, signed for the Chicago Fire in Major League Soccer on Tuesday on a one-year deal as he brought an end to his disappointing 18 months at Old Trafford.

The German World Cup winner was signed by former United boss Louis Van Gaal and became somewhat of a scapegoat of LVG’s second season in charge which saw the Red Devils turn into a predictable, laborious team to watch as they failed to break teams down and finished fifth in the Premier League.

Nursing numerous injuries, Schweinsteiger played 31 times in his only full season at United and appeared just 18 times in the Premier League. He did win an FA Cup under Van Gaal last season but it appeared that when Jose Mourinho arrived in the summer, along with Paul Pogba, that Schweinsteiger’s big wages were not welcome at Old Trafford.

Forced to train with the reserves and left out of action until Nov. 30, 2016, Schweinsteiger got his head down and worked hard in training as many former teammates lambasted the way he was treated by Mourinho and his staff and was shown a lack of respect.

Yet, perhaps due to the humility he showed when cast outside ruthlessly by Mourinho, United’s fans took to him in recent months and cheered his every touch whenever he made brief one of his fourth brief appearances off the bench.

Schweinsteiger was greeted with many well wishes from fellow United players when news of his move to Chicago Fire was confirmed, hammering home his popularity among the squad.

With 18 months of pretty much treading water at United, Schweinsteiger is now ready to kick-start the final stage of his career.

“Throughout my career, I’ve always sought opportunities where I hoped to make a positive impact and to help make something great. My move to Chicago Fire is no different,” Schweinsteiger said. “Through my conversations with Nelson and Pauno, I’m convinced by the club’s vision and philosophy and I want to help them with this project.”

Fire head coach Veljko Paunovic explained where Schweinsteiger will fit into Chicago’s project.

“Having the strongest possible midfield is essential for how we want to play,” Paunovic said. “We see Bastian helping our organization of the attack, and impacting the final third build-up with his vision and creativity to produce the final pass, as well as his capacity to score goals. His versatility on the field, and his immense experience at the highest levels of this sport will be a great benefit to our team.”

So, Schweinsteiger will be given a free role as a No. 10. In his early days he thrived in a central or wide attacking midfield role for Bayern Munich and Germany. Yet, since the 2009-10 season he’s been deployed as a deep-lying playmaker for club and country and that’s worked out well.

Not blessed with outstanding pace, Schweinsteiger’s vision and range of passing mean this free role could suit him well. With Chicago’s duo of Dax McCarty and Juninho in defensive midfield, they could feed the ball to Schweinsteiger and let him do some damage in and around the box. All three are far from spring chickens, but it may just work…

In the Premier League Schweinsteiger’s physicality was a problem, especially defensively, and Mourinho suggested that was the main reason the former captain of the German national team was ostracized from the first team squad.

We all know MLS comes with its own challenges for ageing players and many adapt differently to the pace and power of the league.

Case in point: Steven Gerrard, Andrea Pirlo and Frank Lampard all endured (and in Pirlo’s case, enduring) a tough time on turf pitches and came up against younger, hungry midfielders and were placed in teams were perhaps other attacking players weren’t quite on the same wavelength when it came to making runs and finishing chances. Then you look at Robbie Keane, Didier Drogba and David Villa, and those more attack-minded players have flourished regardless of their age.

Maybe playing Schweinsteiger further forward will be a masterstroke from Paunovic. Still, many in the MLS community are skeptical about bringing in a player who is far from match fit on a Designated Player deal.

We know Schweinsteiger is still a big name in world soccer and commercially this deal will be a hit for a huge media market in the U.S. but it does go against the new wave of young DP signings we’ve seen work so well at Atlanta United, Portland Timbers, Seattle Sounders and other MLS clubs over the past few months.

Schweinsteiger will have to overcome all of these challenges in a Chicago side which is desperate to make a charge this season and make the playoffs for the first time since 2012. Yet, wherever he has been he seems to have overcome the doubters and prove everyone wrong.

With his nightmare at Manchester United over, Schweinsteiger seems ready to make up for lost time.

MLS Snapshots: Manneh inspires Crew SC; Philly, Atlanta win at home

AP Photo/Jay LaPrete
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Columbus Crew SC 4-1 Montreal Impact

Three moments that mattered

17′ — Higuain’s free kick beats Bush — Aided by a slight deflection off the top of the wall, Higuain put a free kick past Evan Bush to give the home side an early lead.

70′ — Manneh makes an immediate impact — The initial ball from Higuain is what you came here for, but the elementary defending by three Montreal defenders is what’ll keep you glued until the very end.

72′ — Manneh sets up Kamara for 3-1 — Kekuta Manneh had been on the field for all of three minutes, and he put a goal and an assist to his name. Most importantly, three points to that of Crew SC.

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Man of the match: Federico Higuain

Goalscorers: Higuain (17′, 88′), Jackson-Hamel (19′), Manneh (70′), Kamara (72′)


 

Philadelphia Union 1-0 D.C. United

Three moments that mattered

28′ — Blake gets down to deny Harkes from distance — Ian Harkes had picked out a spot just inside the far post, but Andre Blake was well up to the task of denying DCU’s homegrown rookie.

31′ — Picault slams Bedoya’s cross — Alejandro Bedoya’s cross has some serious loft on it, which it makes it so tough to keep the ensuing shot low and to hit it with such power. Fantastic finish from Picault.

70′ — Blake stone-walls Neagle from the spot — It’s a pretty poor penalty from Lamar Neagle, but it’s a massive moment so badly needed by Andre Blake who’s been well off his own standard this season. Don’t be surprised if it’s a season-turning save for the talented Jamaican.

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Man of the match: Andre Blake

Goalscorers: Picault (31′)


 

Atlanta United 1-0 Colorado Rapids

Three One moment that mattered

67′ — Martinez turns and beats Howard for the game’s only goal — You can’t give Josef Martinez this kind of space, and this kind of time, around the six-yard box. He’s shown us seven times already this season (in just seven games) how deadly he is from there.

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Man of the match: Josef Martinez

Goalscorers: Martinez (67′)

VIDEO: Accam’s slick backheel puts Chicago ahead

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For the last two years, David Accam has been, in my estimation, the best player in MLS that no one talked about.

[ MORE: NYCFC run rampant on Red Bulls, win NY derby 2-0 ]

Understandably so, of course, given the 26-year-old Ghanaian international and the Chicago Fire been rooted to the bottom of the league table for two years running. All of that has changed in 2017, though, as Accam finally has a forward (Nemanja Nikolic) who can not only put chances away, but create space and chances for his teammates, and a solid midfield base which allows him to cherry-pick counter-attacks just that little bit more.

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Entering Saturday’s game against Orlando City SC, Chicago sat second in the Eastern Conference, just four points back of Toronto FC, and Accam’s 9 goals and 5 assists (in 15 games) were a huge part of the why and the how. It didn’t take Accam long — two minutes, in fact, to put Chicago ahead of Orlando with a ridiculous backheel finish to Matt Polster’s cross.

 

Bravo fit again, but will he start Chile’s Confed Cup group finale?

Photo credit should read YURI KADOBNOV/AFP/Getty Images
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MOSCOW (AP) Claudio Bravo is fit again and could start in goal against Australia at the Confederations Cup on Sunday, Chile coach Juan Antonio Pizzi said Saturday.

Bravo – who is Chile’s joint most-capped player with Alexis Sanchez – hasn’t played since April 27, when he injured his calf for Manchester City in a derby game with Manchester United.

“Claudio is fit, he’s managed to train the last couple of days just like his other teammates,” Pizzi said. “He’s ready and available to play.”

Pizzi brushed off concerns about a lack of match fitness, saying that “quite obviously we take into account that factor” but players like Bravo are “are of such good quality that it isn’t that important they haven’t played in the last couple of months.”

Stand-in Johnny Herrera played in Chile’s 2-0 group stage win over Cameroon and Thursday’s 1-1 draw with Germany.

Gary Medel was substituted with a minor injury while playing in defense for Chile against Germany. Teammate Francisco Silva said Saturday that Medel had complained of “a very small muscle contraction issue” but was now fit.

Pizzi said he will aim to tire out Australia with Chile’s trademark all-action style, even though his team struggled for energy in the latter stages against Germany.

“This energy drop we had in the second half didn’t damage us too much because the opposing team couldn’t maintain a high pace because of the demands we’d imposed on them,” Pizzi said of the Germany game.

“We’re going to try to get (the Australians) tired as well and use this to beat our opponent, and we hope this is going to translate into goals.”

USMNT’s Wood extends Hamburg contract through 2021

Photo credit: Hamburg / Twitter: @HSV
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HAMBURG, Germany (AP) American forward Bobby Wood extended his contract with Bundesliga side Hamburger SV on Saturday to 2021.

Wood, who joined Hamburg from second-tier Union Berlin, scored five goals and set up two more in 28 Bundesliga games. He had 17 goals in 31 second-division games for Union the season before.

“Not only his goals count for us, but his readiness to run and challenge,” Hamburg sporting director Jens Todt said. “Bobby is a key player for our offense and a real team player.”

Wood has eight goals in 32 appearances for the United States.