Henry crosses the pond, on his way to the Big Apple

Henry crosses the pond, on his way to the Big Apple

Wednesday, July 14, 2010
5:10 PM
By Justin O'Neil
CSNChicago.com

Los Angeles got their star in 2007. New York appears to have their star in 2010.

When David Beckham signed a five-year deal to move to the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2007, it made international headlines and shocked soccer insiders around the world. According to reports, the Empire State is getting their own world-class star, with French striker Thierry officially signing with the Red Bulls on Wednesday.

Beckham is a better-known name around the world, but true soccer fans will be more excited to see Henry moving across the pond. Henry is will simply be the best player in the U.S. since Brazilian legend Pele was with the New York Cosmos in the 1970s.

While it can be seen as fashionable to rag on Beckham, few would put the Englishman as the same class as Henry. Henry is one of the greatest players in soccer history: he led the 1998 World Cup Champions with three goals in the tournament, led the English Premier League in scoring four times, the Champions League in scoring twice, and was runner-up for the FIFA Player of the Year Award on two occasions while playing for Arsenal.

Henry was not great at the 2010 World Cup, but neither was any other Frenchman. The team imploded with the outgoing coach Crazy Ray Raymond Domenech feuding with captain Patrick Viera and sending striker Nicolas Anelka home after a locker room spat. Henry was one of the few members of the French team to come out with no blame, even meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy to discuss the meltdown.

While the results of the Beckham move have been mixed, including Beckham and teammate Landon Donovan trading barbs in the press, the move trained the international eye on the MLS like never before. When Beckham received a straight red card for a two-footed tackle last season, the league earned begrudging respect from the English press for not coddling Beckham and giving him special treatment.

Beckham and Donovan put the feud to bed since their rocky first season, and advanced to the MLS Cup Final last season, losing on penalties to Real Salt Lake.

Only Henry knows the true reasons for the move, but having won everything a footballer can hope to win, he is at a different stage of his life. He is no longer the captain of France after being reduced to coming off the bench for both his country and at FC Barcelona. At Barcelona, he is forced to play a more complimentary role because of the sheer class of the players around him.

He has for a long time been an admirer of the U.S. and New York, and is good friends with fellow Frenchman Tony Parker of the San Antonio Spurs. The move to the U.S. has been rumored for years.

Fans would be wrong to think the move is a cash grab by an aging star. Henrys salary and endorsements in Europe already make him one of the best-paid athletes in the world.

Henry turns 33 in August, the same age that Beckham made his move to the MLS. Henry should be reenergized by the move, and bring a winning mentality to the Red Bulls. Barcelona won its second consecutive Spanish League, and was knocked out in the semi-finals of the Champions League last month, a year after winning the competition.

Henry will be the main attraction at the brand-new Red Bull Arena, and be an integral part of the resurgent Red Bulls. He is the third European superstar to make the move to the MLS in the past three years. In addition to the Beckham move, Henrys former Arsenal teammate Freddie Ljungberg signed with the expansion Seattle Sounders last year.

The Fire made a big splash in 2007 when they signed Mexican star Cuauhtemoc Blanco. The midfielder was a good move both on the field and off it, drawing additional followers from the Mexican-American community, but Blanco left the Fire at the conclusion of the 2009 season.

The MLS allows teams to go above the salary cap with the designated player rule, which is how teams on relatively small wage budgets are able to sign international stars. With Blanco gone, the Fire are without a designated player, and seem to be the most logical destination for the next international star that wants to jump to this side of the pond. Both the Galaxy and Red Bulls now have two designated players, while the Fire has none.

Chicago is still searching for their identity, as they are currently fourth in the Eastern Conference with a 4-5-5 record. The team has talent and could make a playoff push, but without true star quality or an impressive breakthrough from the team academy, looks unlikely to compete for a title in the near future.

The Fire can and should be the next team to snatch a big-name. Whether it happens will come down to money, effort by the team, and the sheer luck of a star looking for a fresh start in a new place.

Fire Talk Podcast Episode 4: The Fire have Bastian Schweinsteiger

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AP

Fire Talk Podcast Episode 4: The Fire have Bastian Schweinsteiger

Bastian Schweinsteiger has signed with the Chicago Fire, which means there's plenty to talk about in Fire land.

Dan Santaromita and Shane Murray (MLSsoccer.com) break down the big move in the fourth episode of the Fire Talk Podcast. They look at what his impact will be on and off the field, how much he can improve the team and how the team may line up with him.

Next, hear Dan's interview with coach Veljko Paunovic about Schweinsteiger's addition to the team.

Finally, Dan and Shane look back on the Fire's 4-0 loss in Atlanta, preview the upcoming home match against Montreal and answer some fan questions to wrap up the show.

The podcast is available on iTunes and the Podcasts app on iOS. Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

How does Bastian Schweinsteiger fit into the Fire's lineup?

How does Bastian Schweinsteiger fit into the Fire's lineup?

The dust has begun to settle from the Chicago Fire's signing of Bastian Schweinsteiger.

A few days after the announcement, everyone has had a chance to process the move, evaluate it and wonder how it will help the team. The big question that remains is how will Schweinsteiger fit in with this group?

While central midfield had been a problem for the Fire last year, the additions of Dax McCarty and Juninho, both former MLS All-Stars who are currently still in their prime, seemed to have filled the hole. Now Schweinsteiger comes in and the Fire have a glut of central midfielders.

When asked about finding a way to get all three on the field, coach Veljko Paunovic said it's not a concern at all.

"We were thinking about that a long time ago," Paunovic said. "We were preparing him and other guys to play together. We know what we are doing."

Paunovic wouldn't give much away about how the three would play together in midfield or what specific role Schweinsteiger would play. Will he be an attacking midfielder? Will he sit deep and have one of McCarty and Juninho move up?

"He's going to play the role of the midfielder," Paunovic said. "The midfielder has to play different roles depending on the situation so it's a proven player and I don't think that there is a question about his qualities and what he can bring to our team. For sure he can play, helping our team to build the attack, to help the organization of the play and then in the final third we all know that he can produce passes in the final third and score goals."

While Paunovic wouldn't give any hints as to how Schweinsteiger fits into the Fire's midfield, general manager Nelson Rodriguez did. Sort of.

"There's a current trend that the only way to be a successful No. 10 is to go to Argentina, find a No. 10 fairy tree... and that's the only way that you can have a 10,” Rodriguez said. "I'm not saying that Pauno is going to play him in the 10 role, that will be Pauno's decision. But there's a lot of different types of playmakers that can impact a game."

That answer implies that maybe the Rodriguez and Paunovic view Schweinsteiger as an attacking midfielder in MLS. Even though Rodriguez volunteered the concept of Schweinsteiger of a playmaking No. 10 without being asked about that role, he wouldn't commit to it.

"Pauno and I clearly have had discussions and we were comfortable with it in that regard," Rodriguez said of Schweinsteiger's fit. "I'm loathe to say No. 10 or otherwise again because I think those conjure up preconceived notions and I would also point out that Bastian played in attacking midfield role for Bayern in some of his last years there to great effect. We're talking about a player whose versatility, his intelligence through his dominance of the ball allows him to play a lot of different roles. I think that we all tend to fall into traps and want to define players in a very small way. Some players can transcend those definitions by virtue of their versatility. I think Bastian is one of those guys."

So if Rodriguez and Paunovic won't give much away yet, let's have fun speculating as to how the Fire may line up with the German in the fold.

For starters, there are some basic, reasonable assumptions you have to make when coming up with how things could fit together. These assumptions largely dictate the options available.

Neither Juninho nor Dax McCarty are going to the bench.

The simplest lineup solution would involve having Schweinsteiger step into his natural position and no one moving out of their natural spot. However, that's not going to happen because Juninho and McCarty are too good and too important to send to the bench. That's why this isn't simple. Finding a way to fit three central midfielders into the same starting lineup will require some creativity from Paunovic.

Nemanja Nikolic, David Accam and Michael de Leeuw all must start.

Like Schweinsteiger, Nikolic and Accam are designated players and will start when healthy. Hypthetically, the Fire could have Schweinsteiger come in as an extra midfielder in some sort of 4-5-1 (or 4-3-3) formation and have the Fire play with only one forward, which would be Nikolic. The problem with this is de Leeuw, who was arguably the team's best player after debuting last August, is too good to send to the bench. In this scenario he is left without a spot. Does he move into a wide position to accommodate Schweinsteiger and send Arturo Alvarez to the bench? This seems plausible, but less than ideal for de Leeuw, who has proven to be an effective goal poacher.

Given Rodriguez's quotes about Schweinsteiger being a playmaker, here are a couple ways this could work with him as the highest of the three central midfielders.

First, a 4-2-3-1, which Paunovic has used for most of his matches with the Fire. Schweinsteiger has more offensive responsibility here.

Second, a more traditional 4-3-3 where Vincent and Harrington will have provide more attacking width.

The differences between these two are subtle, but these seem to be the most likely possibilities.

But what about something very different? What about a 3-5-2? Paunovic tried this formation a few times last season, but often times it looked more like a very defensive 5-3-2 because, as he even said, the wide defenders weren't getting forward enough. Different personnel could change that. Behold:

The benefits to this are that the Fire's best offensive players are all on the field at the same time in their natural positions and Schweinsteiger won't be asked to cover a lot of ground with Juninho and McCarty playing behind him centrally.

However, there's always risk going with a three-man back line. McCarty and Juninho can provide better cover and support than the Fire had last year when trying this formation. Another option would be to have Brandon Vincent replace Alvarez to have a more defensive-minded player on the field.

The answer won't come until Schweinsteiger makes his first start in a Fire uniform, and even then Paunovic may tinker or change his mind.

"I would just say I don't think people should make an assumption as to how we're going to line up or play or what roles we're going to fill," Rodriguez said. "I think that we have to allow this team to come together. We have to allow this team to play together. We have to allow competition to change to determine who plays."