At the crucial moment, an instance of conviction tilted the game Chicago’s way.
As Bastian Schweinsteiger came off the field, he was pulled to one side by a sponsor’s representative to receive his Heineken Man of the Match guitar. Exhausted, grinning broadly, Schweinsteiger posed happily for photographs — at one point dropping a happy aside that he’d “been waiting for one of these” as he held the guitar up for the cameras.
And he has deserved a moment like this. Schweinsteiger’s time in Chicago has been about honest service to the team, paired with the unmistakable class and focus of an elite player. He’s dug in, organized, directed traffic, tackled, fought, been cool in possession, held the line and the shape, and of course distributed the ball with the kind of accuracy and smoothness many players can only dream of.
And Saturday, with the game drifting, but with an opportunity beckoning to tighten up the Eastern Conference playoff race at the perfect time, Schweinsteiger seized it with conviction — battling across his man and calmly guiding the winning header into the bottom corner of the goal.
So much of what the Fire has done well in recent games has been about creative balance. Not-over-committing, picking their moments, trusting in the creative flair up front, while tending the open spaces at the back. It’s looked like a team with conviction, not of blunt force, but of movement and shape — potent and patient, with Schweinsteiger as its defensive fulcrum. Balanced.
Coming into tonight it was an approach that had been rewarded with consecutive clean sheets, a first road win, and a growing sense of calmness and belief throughout the team. And as the Fire raced out to a 2-0 lead, the dividends from that growing confidence seemed to be growing exponentially.
But this was as crucial a game for Montreal as it was for Chicago. Beat the Fire and the Impact might have effectively seen off a playoff challenger. Montreal duly battled back into the game with a late equalizer. Now, as the game headed into its final minutes, the Fire’s sense of belief — its conviction in its approach — was being tested at a moment when the stakes were as high as they’ve been all season.
Yet ultimately, with the game and perhaps the season itself in the balance, the man who has anchored our defense with calm all season stepped up to tilt that balance decisively in the Fire’s favor.
In some ways Schweinsteiger’s goal was a microcosm of the best moments of the team this year. Timing, positioning, placement and belief — and a healthy burst of hustle when needed. Tonight it was needed more than ever. And Schweinsteiger, so often the counterweight at the back, had the conviction to change the game.
From adrift to in touching distance, the team’s playoff hopes are still in the balance, but when fortune tilted its way tonight, it was favoring the brave.