As debuts go, all that Bastian Schweinsteiger was missing from his first appearance in a Chicago Fire shirt Saturday was three points.
Not following the script, the Montreal Impact ensured that the Fire, orchestrated superbly by their superstar German debutant, would only leave with a point from a game they mostly dominated.
Schweinsteiger opened the scoring with his first MLS goal on a 17th-minute header from close range and went the full 90 minutes as the Men in Red recovered from the 70th-minute dismissal of Juninho and a 90th-minute deficit to claim a deserved equalizer in stoppage time and a share of the spoils with a 2-2 draw at Toyota Park.
Unsurprisingly, Schweinsteiger was voted Man of the Match following an all-action display that saw him pull the strings with typical vision and accuracy. He twice set up substitute Luis Solignac in the dying minutes as the hosts chased a game they had been in full control prior to Juninho being sent off following a second bookable offense.
“It was a great feeling,” Schweinsteiger said postgame, addressing the large huddle of journalists that swarmed his locker. “Perfect cross from David (Accam) and the header [on the goal]. It was a good feeling at first, but I’m a little bit sad and not so happy that we couldn’t win the game.”
Head coach Veljko Paunovic predicted that the 32-year-old Schweinsteiger would bring greater quality to his squad, and on this first showing, the new Designated Player certainly did not disappoint.
“I think [Schweinsteiger] was great,” Paunovic said. “To start the debut with a goal, it’s always something that we all dream of. Opening the game as we did with his goal was an important thing for our team. On his game, we improved obviously; with his quality passes in the final third, smoothness in the build-up and calm, we were more patient with the ball and that helped the team, especially in the first half.”
“In the second half, he showed and we saw his character and mentality, with one man down we pushed hard and he was pushing our guys in the 92nd minute to try to win the game,” he added. “Everything that we were expecting, he showed in this game. We have to work, obviously to give him the best possible support and recovery and prepare him throughout the whole season, but we are very happy with his performance.”
Schweinsteiger’s unquestionable class and quality permeated the contest, with his dynamic play, vision on the ball and surprising willingness to get stuck in endearing him immediately to the Fire fans. His regular touches of brilliance brought the crowd to their feet, and the encouragement and direction he gave to his teammates was infectious. Unsurprisingly, Dax McCarty was equally productive and dynamic alongside him and it will be intriguing to see where the pair, along with the likes of Juninho, Michael de Leeuw, Accam and Nemanja Nikolic, can take this team.
Schweinsteiger’s final words were for the Fire fans, who have made him feel instantly at home in Chicago and on the field at Toyota Park.
“A big thank you to the Chicago Fire fans, supporters,” he said. “It was very special and I know it was a very good feeling, but not only for me but also for the team I know it’s very important we have a good atmosphere at home and I’m very happy how it was today.”