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The Daily Dirt, March 22: Chicago gets bold

Schweinsteiger signing shows the challenges the Fire face in Chicago

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Manchester United v Wigan Athletic - The Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images

As much as I’ve said that Atlanta United represents MLS 3.0, it doesn’t mean that every team should build in the same way. Just like Bastian Schweinsteiger’s signing doesn’t mean that the “MLS is a retirement league” narrative is still true either. Different markets have different challenges.

Atlanta United’s front office has made it clear that they did not need to sign a player strictly to move the needle on ticket sales or jersey sales. They decided to invest their money differently because of the strong response from the community, and signed younger star players.

The Fire is in a different situation. They have more competition for the sports dollar in Chicago with five other major franchises in the city. The Cubs are coming off of a World Series championship and taking most of the headlines right now. The Fire have also had back-to-back last place finishes in MLS and the pressure is mounting to gain the fans’ interest. A signing like Schweinsteiger is an attempt to do that.

Chicago GM Nelson Rodriguez said yesterday:

“I spoke to the office staff earlier this morning and I mentioned to them that I’m sure, for many, they feel our job just got easier — easier to sell tickets, easier to sell sponsorships, easier to sell merchandise. But in reality, our job just got harder. With Bastian comes an entirely different standard of excellence and expectations. And this is a call to our entire club that we need to step up our game and meet that challenge and meet that level.”

I still don’t agree with the signing from a soccer perspective. I think it will be difficult to make a three-man midfield of Schweinsteiger, Dax McCarty, and Juninho work due to their similarities. Athletic teams can take advantage of their lack of speed. It also leaves promising young player Matt Polster on the outside looking in, or shifting to a different position.

It’s a very strange move due to the timing and risk. Nelson Rodriguez and Veljko Paunovic have likely staked their futures to the success of this move.

However, it does show the differences from market to market in MLS. What is successful in one city might not work in another. There is not one magic blueprint for success. We will have to wait and see if Chicago has found their path out of the league’s basement.


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