Bastian Schweinsteiger wasn’t unfamiliar when he signed for Major League Soccer and the Chicago Fire from Manchester United. The former Bayern Munich midfielder and German captain is a household name in the soccer world and that extends to Columbus.
“I’ve watched him since I was a young kid,” Wil Trapp said, “so it will be awesome to play against him.”
Columbus Crew SC will get a firsthand look at Schweinsteiger on Saturday when the team travels to take on Chicago at Toyota Park.
The Fire’s new Designated Player made his debut last week in a 2-2 draw with the Montreal Impact. His MLS career started off with a bang, scoring a headed goal and controlling the midfield throughout the match.
“He’s a good player. He’s quality,” Columbus head coach Gregg Berhalter said of Schweinsteiger.
Berhalter would know. Like Trapp, and many others on the Black & Gold, Berhalter has seen Schweinsteiger player. The difference is, the coach saw a younger Schweinsteiger take the field as an opponent during Berhalter’s seven years playing in Germany with FC Energie Cottbus and 1860 Munich and his time with the U.S. National team
“He certainly has it,” Berhalter remembered of those matches against the midfielder. “What I really admire about him is the way he’s adapted his game. He started as a winger and he ends a controlling No. 6, which is quite remarkable how a guy can adapt not only offensively, but defensively for that position.”
In those meetings, Berhalter was simply executing the game plan against Schweinsteiger’s team. Now, as the manager of Crew SC, he must construct a form of attack to neutralize what was once one of the best players in the world.
Schweinsteiger’s only had one match with his new teammates, but Berhalter was impressed with the German in his debut and expects him to be better after another week of training.
“What I see is he gives them calm,” he said. “He gives a different demeanor. He’s able to control the play, he’s able to make passes that can open up the opponent and he does it all with a great amount of poise and I think that helps settle the rest of the group.
“I think that you would expect a guy like him to keep improving, keep getting better, as he gets more familiar with his teammates. So I would expect (improvement), yes.”
Throughout the contest with Montreal, Schweinsteiger popped up all over the field and looked to play through passes for his teammates behind the defense. He connected more than once, leading to a couple of good chances and a red card to the Impact’s Victor Cabrera on a breakaway chance.
Trapp will be one of the players tasked with trying to neutralize Schweinsteiger, or at least trying to keep him in check. This is a task that will be easier said than done.
“Following Schweinsteiger from his early days at Bayern until now, I think he’s a guy that while his physical stature in terms of covering ground and winning balls might be a little different now that he’s a few years older, he still was at one point a world class player and that IQ doesn’t leave you. It will be an interesting task,” Trapp said.
But it’s not as if the Black & Gold haven’t seen this before. MLS may not be the English Premier League, but the talent in the league, especially with recent DP signings, continues to increase.
In any given week, Trapp and his teammates could face Sebastian Giovinco, Andrea Pirlo or Kaka. Berhalter has game planned for David Villa, Giovani dos Santos and Michael Bradley.
Schweinsteiger might be the newest face, but it doesn’t change the approach for Crew SC.
“It’s no different than any other big game that we’ve had this season,” Trapp said of this week.
“Every team in this league has someone who’s dangerous. Whether you’re playing against David Villa, whether you’re playing against Kaka, it doesn’t matter, Giovinco as well. It’s just continuing to execute the game plan and be within your role on the team.”
Columbus knows this drill well. While Schweinsteiger must be focused on, the team can’t lose track of the overall game plan, and the other quality players on the field. He must be handled like any other talented midfielder the Black & Gold face.
“I think sometimes the better players are more difficult to read,” Berhalter said. “Even though they make the game look easy, it’s difficult sometimes to read their intentions and what they’re going to do. They’re very good at keeping that close to them and it helps them execute plays.”
Crew SC already played the Fire once, before Schweinsteiger signed. That was the season opener and it resulted in a 1-1 draw at MAPFRE Stadium.
While Chicago is the team that has improved on paper with the addition of the former World Cup winner, Trapp and his teammates are confident they can handle Schweinsteiger and take care of the Fire based on the team’s current run of form.
That means continuing what has worked over the last few matches.
“Five games on, we’re the one with three wins under our belt, but we’re not complacent or content with just three wins,” Trapp said. “We want to continue to win and continue to attack every game we have.”