MONTREAL — When the Montreal Impact play their next game April 1 in Chicago, they could be facing the newest big-name signing in Major League Soccer — Bastian Schweinsteiger.
The former Germany captain signed a one-year US$4.5 million contract (plus an option year) this week to leave Manchester United, where he was out of favour with manager Jose Mourinho. He is expected to join the Fire next week, and it remains to be seen if coach Veljko Paunovic decides to give Schweinsteiger his first MLS action right away against Montreal.
If he does, that's fine with Impact defender Hassoun Camara.
"It's always a good thing to play against a big player like this," Camara said Thursday. "It's a good addition for MLS.
"He's a good player and we have to respect that, but we are focused on the team we have to play. It's against Chicago and not against Schweinsteiger that we're going to play."
The 32-year-old Schweinsteiger is the latest in a long run of older, perhaps fading, European stars to extend their careers in MLS since England's David Beckham joined the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2007. The league modified its salary cap rules to encourage such signings, which has seen greats like Thierry Henry, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and former Impact striker Didier Drogba cross the Atlantic as designated players.
Results have been mixed. Spaniard David Villa has been brilliant for New York City, same with Brazilian Kaka in Orlando. But Gerrard never got it going in L.A. and Lampard struggled with injuries for a year before finding his scoring touch last season.
Drogba was a scoring machine in his first half-season with Montreal in 2015, but tailed off and was used as a bench player in his second and final season.
Some players and managers in Europe feel Schweinsteiger still has plenty of soccer left in him even if Mourinho used him in only two games this season before letting him go. The eight-time Bundesliga champion with Bayern Munich had been limited, mainly by injuries, to 18 appearances after joining Man U for the 2015-16 campaign.
Now he has a chance to shine in a very different league.
"It's up to him," said Camara. "I think he was not so healthy this last season with his knee but I hope he's going to be good.
"Now it's about the mindset he will bring to MLS because this league is very competitive now and you have to be very focused, physically and mentally. It's not because you were a big player that it means you can come here and it's going to be easy. You need the right mindset. A player like Didier had it and I hope he will have the same focus."
It'll be up to Paunovic to decide how to use Schweinsteiger. He has been a central midfielder most of his career, recovering balls and launching attacks, but he may decide to use him in more of an attacking role. The Fire's main off-season acquisition was central midfielder Dax McCarty.
Coach Mauro Biello said the Impact have to be ready for anything.
"For us it's important that we continue to prepare the team the right way, having that possibility that we may face him in midfield, in some form, whether it's the way they've been playing or if it alters the way they play," he said.
Schweinsteiger led Bayern to a Champions League title and helped Germany win a World Cup. He scored 68 goals in 500 games in all competitions for Munich and added 24 goals in 121 international matches.
"It's a good acquisition for them," said Biello. "It's obviously someone that's won everything.
They're getting a winner. They're in a rebuilding phase and he's a leader that can come in and help them."
The Fire (1-1-1) are coming off consecutive last-place finishes, although they shocked the Impact with a 3-0 win at Saputo Stadium last August for their first road win in more than two years. They made a few off-season singings and now have added a big name to help on the field and at the box office.
To boot, Schweinsteiger is married to former tennis world No. 1 Ana Ivanovic.
"This league is very homogeneous," said Camara. "What happened last year doesn't say anything about the new year.
"You have a lot of good players who come and you're able to change everything. So we know that Chicago will be very good this year and we have to match up."
Notes: Impact midfielder David Choiniere was back at practice. The 20-year-old had been out since mid-January with torn ligaments in his left knee. . . Midfielder Jimmy Shammar Sanon signed with the Ottawa Fury to become the fourth Impact prospect on the USL club.
Bill Beacon, The Canadian Press