CHICAGO – Before arriving as the Chicago Fire's newest Designated Player, Bastian Schweinsteiger’s only previous visit to the Windy City was a brief one.
In July 2015, the German traveled to Chicago with Manchester United. The Red Devils were set to play, and ultimately lost, against Paris Saint-Germain in an International Champions Cup match at Soldier Field.
“We just came for, I don’t know, 20 hours, so I couldn’t see something about the city,” Schweinsteiger said. “But I heard a lot of good things about the city.”
Last month, nearly two years after that whirlwind visit, the 32-year-old German midfielder arrived to Chicago for a more long-term stay and is finding what he had heard to be the truth.
“It’s been pretty quick, [my wife and I] felt comfortable actually from the first moment,” Schweinsteiger said. “The people from the club they helped us a lot from the touch down in Chicago. It was very easy for us to settle in actually. It didn’t take us so long. Of course you have to know the places where you’re going to go, but the club organized everything for us pretty well and also the people made it very easy for us.”
While he was greeted by a large, excited crowd of fans at the airport, Schweinsteiger said he and his wife – former world No. 1 tennis player Ana Ivanovic – have enjoyed a slightly more anonymous celebrity thus far in the city.
“There are some who know something about soccer so they recognize me, but everyone is very polite here,” he said. “But it’s still different to Europe for me, for us.”
Having played for only two other clubs in his professional career, Schweinsteiger isn’t exactly a relocation expert. He said, however, that he has tried getting to know his new home by foot.
“I like to explore the city a little bit by walking, and of course driving,” Schweinsteiger said. “You can’t walk all around Chicago. It’s too big, but walk around a bit in the different spots it’s quite nice. To feel also the mentality of the people a little bit, to learn it.”
Another way Schweinsteiger has gotten a taste of the city’s mentality is through its passion for sports. He has attended Chicago Bulls and Chicago Blackhawks games, and both were new experiences for him. The former German national team captain said he’s looking forward to catching baseball and NFL games as well to round out his tour of the Chicago sports scene.
“You can feel that Chicago is a city of sport,” Schweinsteiger said. “The people like sport and they support the teams, so that’s cool.”
A few weeks into his new hometown, Schweinsteiger couldn’t think of a city he’d been to that felt similar to Chicago.
“Honestly I don’t know a city where you have this kind of big lake,” Schweinsteiger said. "In Germany we have a city Hamburg, but no, Chicago is bigger. I really like it. It’s not too busy. Of course there are a lot of people here, but we actually like the city life and we enjoy it at the moment.”
Now, after spending the initial few weeks of his MLS tenure playing home games, Schweinsteiger is set to take to the road with the Fire for the first time. The upcoming schedule will introduce him to MLS's lengthy travel, as it includes stops in Toronto (Friday, 6:30 pm CT | COZI TV | MLS LIVE), New York, and Los Angeles.
The latter two cities are among the only places Schweinsteiger said he’d previously visited in the US (along with Miami). He admitted that his wife knows more about the country than he does from her tennis playing days, but said he’s looking forward to seeing the league’s sights now that he’s starting to settle in Chicago.
“We have three away matches so I’m also quite interested in how it’s going to be,” he said. “I like to travel, see different cities and teams.”
John Wilkinson is a contributor to MLSsoccer.com.