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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.

[ MORE: Overhaul at Arsenal? ]

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.

Five Thirty Eight unveils Top 426 soccer clubs in the world

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Perspective achieved?

Advanced statistical site Five Thirty Eight has put together a weekly ranking of the top and bottom club teams in the world, and its algorithm gives us a theoretical answer into where Major League Soccer fits into the club soccer landscape.

[ MORE: Julian Green back on transfer market ]

At its very base level, the rankings will give reason to check back all season. Can Manchester United break into the Top Three? Will an MLS side leap into the Top 100? Can the worst American club avoid the bottom slot?

Here’s the list of clubs, and Five Thirty Eight has also gone through the trouble of giving its statistical analysis of who’s best set-up to win leagues and even games.

A note on the methodology:

We’re using recent matches played between teams from different leagues, supplemented with league market values (from Transfermarkt), to assign a strength rating to every league that we’re forecasting. Our new league ratings also give us the ability to a calculate a global Soccer Power Index (SPI) rating for each team — a number from 0 to 100 that represents the overall strength of each team.

The Premier League and La Liga combine for six of the Top Ten teams in the world, with Real Madrid No. 1 and Man City, Manchester United, and Chelsea running Nos. 7, 8, and 9.

Brighton and Hove Albion is the lowest ranked Premier League club, 188th in the world. The only PL sides outside the Top 125 are the three promoted clubs. Swansea is 113th, the lowest (or highest) ranked PL side aside from the new promotions.

Brighton is 17 spots below MLS’ top representative: Toronto FC. The same web site ranked MLS as the 28th best league in the world earlier this month, between Denmark and Croatia.

New York City FC shows up next, at 259, then rivals New York Red Bulls at 267. The bulk of MLS clubs fit between 320 and 422, where Minnesota United brings up the rear. The study ranks 426 teams, with three Scottish clubs running 424-426.

[ MORE: Man City 1-1 Everton | 3 things ]

As for some other odds, Five Thirty Eight gives Manchester United the best odds to win the league at 31 percent, with Man City, Chelsea, and Spurs joining them with the best odds to place in the Top Four.

The average simulated season has United besting rivals City by two points, with 80. Tottenham (72) tops Arsenal (68) for fourth by four points, while No. 6 Liverpool finishes 10 points clear of Merseyside rivals Everton (57 points).

It’s no surprise that the three promoted clubs — Huddersfield Town, Newcastle, and Brighton — are the top bets to be relegated, with Bournemouth, Crystal Palace, and Swansea City the next best bets to find life in the Championship.

Other notes:

— Manchester United is the fourth-best defensive team in the Premier League, behind only Atletico Madrid, Bayern Munich, and Juventus.

— Spurs are also in the Top Ten amongst defensive teams, a 8.

— Man City is the best offensive team in the PL, seventh in the world.

— Watford is this week’s highest PL riser, up 22 spots.

— MLS side Chicago Fire suffered the fourth biggest drop in the world this week (40 spots).

Five Thirty Eight is one of the best predictive web sites in the world, and one of the only ones who gave more than an outside shot (though still ranking it a long shot) of the 2016 United States presidential election turning out for the winner of the electoral college. So this is certainly food for thought.

Former Dinamo Zagreb boss injured after shooting

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SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) Controversial former Dinamo Zagreb director Zdravko Mamic was shot and injured in Bosnia on Monday, police and media reported.

Croatia’s state TV said Mamic was shot in his leg and taken to a local hospital on Monday. It said the injury was not life-threatening.

Police were searching for two possible assailants.

[ MORE: Five PL new boys to watch ]

Bosnian media said Mamic was attending a memorial for his father at a graveyard near the town of Tomislavgrad when two people fired at him from a nearby forest. Another report said it was a drive-by shooting.

Croatia’s TV said Mamic voluntarily left the hospital in Bosnia after doctors managed to stop the bleeding, and he went to the Croatian capital, Zagreb.

Bosnian police declined to confirm the identity of the victim by name, but said a man with the initials ZM and born in 1959 in the Croatian city of Bjelovar, just like Mamic, was shot and injured.

Mamic, known for his fiery temper, has been on a high-profile embezzlement and tax fraud trial in Croatia.

Prosecutors accuse Mamic, his brother, and two others of embezzling 15 million euros of the club’s money since 2008 and not paying 1.6 million euros in taxes.

Mamic, who remains Dinamo’s adviser, is still considered the most powerful man in Croatian football despite the charges.

Dinamo issued a statement, calling the attack a “murder attempt.”

It said the attempted “liquidation” of Mamic was not a surprise amid a “lynching campaign” against him by the Croatian media.

He was recently knocked off his yacht into the sea by an attacker believed to be a fan of rival Hajduk Split.

AP Writer Dusan Stojanovic contributed from Belgrade, Serbia.

LIVE – Champions League playoff: Nice-Napoli headlines action

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With Celtic (just about) booking their spot in the UEFA Champions League group stage on Tuesday, four more teams will join them.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ] 

Napoli, Olympiacos, Sevilla and Hapoel Be’er Sheva all have narrow leads heading into the second legs which sets things up rather nicely. Olympiacos and Be’er Sheva will be feeling particularly nervous after conceding at home in the first leg.

On Wednesday five more ties takes place across Europe with Liverpool looking to book their spot in the UCL group stage against Hoffenheim.

Below is the full schedule for Tuesday’s games, which kick off at 2:45 p.m. ET, while you can click on the link above to follow live commentary on all four matches.


Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League playoff second legs

Nice vs. Napoli (Napoli lead 2-0 on aggregate)
Astana 4-3 Celtic (Celtic advance 8-4 on aggregate)
Rijeka vs. Olympiacos (Olympiacos leads 2-1 on aggregate)
Sevilla vs. Istanbul Basaksehir (Sevilla leads 2-1 on aggregate)
Maribor vs. Hapoel Be’er Sheva (Hapoel Be’er Sheva lead 2-1 on aggregate)

LIVE – Premier League clubs enter League Cup

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Seven Premier League teams enter the League Cup second round on Tuesday with plenty of potential upsets lined up.

[ LIVE: Follow League Cup scores ]

All 13 PL clubs (six more are in action on Wednesday) face teams from the lower leagues with the likes of Crystal Palace, Leicester City, Bournemouth and Swansea City all on upset alert.

U.S. national team players to watch out for include Lynden Gooch who starts for Sunderland and Emerson Hyndman who is on the bench for Bournemouth.

Below is the schedule for the League Cup games on Tuesday with all games to kick off at 2:45 p.m. ET unless otherwise stated.


Tuesday
Crystal Palace vs. Ipswich Town – 2:30pm
Aston Villa vs. Wigan Athletic
Leeds United vs. Newport County
Middlesbrough vs. Scunthorpe United
Norwich City vs. Charlton Athletic
QPR vs. Brentford
Fulham vs. Bristol Rovers
Cardiff City vs. Burton Albion
Carlisle United vs. Sunderland
Doncaster vs. Hull City
Brighton vs. Barnet
Accrington Stanley vs. West Brom
Sheffield United vs. Leicester City
Birmingham City vs. Bournemouth
Watford vs. Bristol City
MK Dons vs. Swansea City
Reading vs. Millwall – 3pm
Bolton vs. Sheffield Wednesday – 3pm