The Chicago Fire are set to welcome Eastern Conference counterparts Orlando City SC for a nationally televised contest at Toyota Park this Sunday (4 p.m. CT, FS1). Alongside John Strong and Katie Witham, former Major League Soccer and U.S. Men's National Team midfielder Stuart Holden will be on the mic to call the action live on FS1.
Holden -- a standout for the Houston Dynamo and Bolton Wanderers (then of the English Premier League) over an eight-year playing career -- was capped 25 times by the USMNT and represented the Stars and Stripes in the 2010 World Cup, 2008 Beijing Olympics as well as the 2009 and 2013 Gold Cup tournaments.
Now in his third year as a commentator with Fox Sports, the 33-year-old is coming off a summer spent calling the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia as lead analyst.
Ahead of kickoff on Sunday, Chicago-Fire.com caught up with Holden to gather his thoughts on the upcoming matchup, his time in Russia and his thoughts on the USMNT coming out of the latest international break (Conversation edited for length and clarity):
Chicago-Fire.com: As you prepare to call the match on FS1 this Sunday, what are some of the key matchups you’re anticipating?
Stuart Holden: "When I look at the key matchups, certainly two good goal-scorers on both sides in Dom Dwyer and (Nemanja) Nikolić. Dom Dwyer has 12 goals on the season and Nikolic has the exact same. As far as strikers go, I think they’re both strikers that rely on service and players around them being able to create and put balls in the box. I think that’s one area where both teams have struggled. That’s one matchup I’m looking for, and that would be against opposing centerbacks. I’m not sure if (Bastian) Schweinsteiger will play as a centerback or as a defensive midfielder, but if he plays as a centerback I’d be really interested how him and (Johan) Kappelhof – or if it’s Brandon Vincent as well – deal with Dom Dwyer’s movement and Sacha Kljestan underneath him. As well, a battle of playmakers, (Aleksandar) Katai and Yotun for Orlando. When you look at some of these teams – and they’ve actually both struggled defensively – you still need your creative players and your big players to produce big moments in these games, and those are two players I’m focused on as well."
C-F.com: During the club’s break, we celebrated Bastian Schweinsteiger’s testimonial match against FC Bayern in Munich. As a fellow midfielder, what are your thoughts on his legacy?
SH: "First of all - his legacy as a player – I think legend is more than appropriate for a guy like Bastian Schweinsteiger. I saw some pictures from your trip over there, and again, it just strikes you when you see him lined up in front of all the trophies he’s won as a player as a part of Bayern Munich and Germany. You realize how decorated this guy is as a member of the German National Team, as a member of Bayern Munich. The other thing as a player that I love about him is he just reads the game so well. He’s not the fastest guy, he’s not the biggest, he’s not the strongest player, but his passing, his ability to be in the right spots all the time, that has allowed him to maintain such a high level over the course of his career. At a club like Bayern Munich where they’re constantly chopping and changing and having to compete at the top, he was always there.
I look at how he’s approached his time in Major League Soccer, and I think this season we’ve learned more about Schweinsteiger than last. When he came in, the team went on this incredible run and was undefeated and the crowds were big and it jolted a playoff run and the team was top of the league for a while. This season has been tough, and I’m sure one of the tougher seasons in his career, but I would say in following him and watching him, he’s played every position he’s been asked to play, he’s been a positive influence on his teammates, and he’s still done stuff off the field. That speaks to Schweinsteiger the person and the competitor and the player. A guy that is still willing to do everything he can in order for the team to do well."
C-F.com: What are some of your memories of Chicago during your time as a player?
SH: "That was one of my favorite MLS goals actually. I think it might have been my second ever start in Major League Soccer. Wade Barrett cut it back to me at the top of the box and I bounced one into the ground over Matt Pickens, I think, and we won that game. That stadium was so new at that time. It was always a tough place to come play there, but I loved to come play in Chicago. I’ve had some incredible memories there with the U.S. Men’s National Team, and also a bad one. My career effectively ended in Chicago when I tore my ACL in the Gold Cup final. I don’t necessarily speak about that one as much as I do about the good memories against some really good Fire teams over the years. The fan base and how passionate they are towards the national team and the Fire. I always look forward to coming back there and it always sparks memories of playing there as a player."
C-F.com: How would you summarize your experience calling the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia earlier this summer?
SH: "I get asked this as far as playing in a World Cup versus broadcasting a World Cup. Nothing stacks up to playing in it, because that was something I worked my entire life for and achieved a boyhood dream of playing in a World Cup and representing my country. Covering it as a broadcaster - albeit I’m not playing actually out on the field - it was such an amazing experience. Considering I’m only a couple years into broadcasting, to be sitting there, my first game being Portugal against Spain. There was a lot of hype before it. It was one I was excited for for about six months as soon as we saw the draw. For that one to be a 3-3 game where Ronaldo scores in the last minute with a free kick, I think it was just another realization for me that, ‘Hey I’m covering the biggest tournament in the world right now, and this is an incredible opportunity. My voice will be heard by millions of people back in the U.S. How do you present these amazing moments in a way that captures the audience and can capture that feeling of what it means?’
Carrying that around, we were on an airplane or calling a game for 30 days straight. We did over 12,000 miles internally. We did 18 games. It was such a blur because we were just head down and focused on the next game and the next game and the next game. When it got to calling the World Cup final, I was sitting there about 10 minutes before kickoff and had a moment to myself to look around and soak it in and say, ‘This is the World Cup Final. This is as big as it gets in our sport.’ That, to me, was a really cool moment of clarity, looking out when the teams were walking out for the anthems. Then, it was just back into the zone of covering the game. Career-wise it was an amazing experience. It’s something I’ll remember forever - the challenges of traveling Russia - but also what I think is the best World Cup in our history. I’m proud to have done that and covered it with Fox Sports."
C-F.com: The United States Men’s National Team was also in action over the break. As someone who is close to the program, what were your takeaways from their matches against Brazil and Mexico and your thoughts on the program moving forward?
SH: "I think the match against Brazil was – I don’t want to say a reality check, because I think many people knew that that team was not going to compete – but just another reminder that the world’s elite – the Brazils and Frances and Germanys and Spains – are still a level above us. These experiences for these younger players are invaluable in terms of being able to measure yourself against that, and realizing you need to continue to push to try and take it to another level. I saw some positives and some really good performances from some of our youngsters. I thought Tyler Adams was a standout over the two games. I thought Matt Miazga was a standout over the two games. We’re slowly, over these next couple of years, going to start seeing guys that emerge as leaders and constant performers for the group, guys that can really drive it forward.
From the Brazil match perspective, a couple positives but also realizing we have some work to do. These opportunities don’t come often to play against the best teams in the world. Then, any time you play Mexico – it was said a lot the last couple days – but there’s never a friendly. Whether it’s these younger players and this is the passing of the torch to the next generation on both sides and you don’t have the history of Oguchi Onyewu and Rafa Marquez and these iconic moments you think of over the years - the Michael Bradley scoring and the dos a ceros. This young group, I didn’t think they played particularly well in the first half, but they won the game 1-0 and that’s all that matters. Those are feelings that you don’t forget when you play against Mexico. Even if it is a friendly, it develops that psychological edge, that mentality when you play them going forward. In seeing how the game went down - they had a red card and that Matt Miazga moment with Lianez - these are all great things that I think feed and fuel this younger group. We’ll see again how they stack up in October. There’s work to do, but still a lot of positives that people can take away."