Within minutes of Bastian Schweinsteiger opening his Chicago Fire account, with a headed goal in the 17th minute of the Fire's 2-2 draw with Montreal Impact, the MLS social media team was excitedly tweeting that, "The script writers had this one right."
Whether the scriptwriters also had in mind a climax to the game that would involve two red cards and two stoppage-time goals is another matter, but the general breathlessness of the occasion rather fit the sensationalism of a week dominated by the frothy nonsense of "Schweini wins the World Cup."
Somewhat lost in the clamor though, was another plot point that says more about the longer unfolding story of MLS than the immediate melodrama of 2017's week five. Before Luis Solignac saved the game late on, Chicago almost let the match slip through its fingers thanks to Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla scoring his first-ever goal for the Montreal Impact at the age of 18.
It was no more than the young Impact player deserved after a lively performance on the left of the Montreal attack in which he looked right at home. And as first impressions go, it didn't hurt that the manner in which Tabla took his goal -- picking up the ball on the corner of the box, and touching it just inside to take his shot -- had echoes of a late winner scored against the same opposition by Ignacio Piatti this time last year.
- Major League Soccer (@MLS) April 1, 2017
Tabla is just the latest, and not even the most remarkable, of a crop of homegrown players emerging to see real minutes already this year, and that, more than any single star signing, is likely to be the more significant development when the long-term history of the league comes to be written.
That's no disrespect to Schweinsteiger, who has already shown a degree of grace and commitment that suggests he might just be the missing piece Veljko Paunovic and Nelson Rodriguez were hoping for, but the point is, no matter how valuable, he's just that: a piece of the solution they've been fitting together around other pieces they have acquired before this season, such as Dax McCarty and Juninho.
And then there was Daniel Johnson. Chicago actually fielded two players making their debut on Saturday, with the No. 11 SuperDraft pick Johnson arriving off the bench in the second half and making an instant impact. The trajectories that brought one player, Schweinsteiger, to Bridgeview via Bayern Munich, Manchester United and a World Cup win, and the other via West Ham United's youth system and almost falling through the cracks of the U.S. college system, could not be more different, but could not be more MLS. It matters that both played their part credibly.
The simple fact is that with wages set at one trajectory, and the exponential expansion of the league seemingly set on a steeper one, for now at least, the league gets to thrive on designated player success stories like David Villa, Sebastian Giovinco and now, hopefully, Schweinsteiger, but it needs the viable and affordable pipeline offered by the various homegrown, USL reserve team, and, for now at least, SuperDraft mechanisms, just as much, if not more, for there to be any meaningful context for those designated players to play in.
The "meaningful" qualifier is important. Seasoned league watchers might have written off the Schweinsteiger news conference "World Cup" faux pas as just one of those familiar irritations of being a soccer fan in the U.S., albeit an unfortunately ill-timed one. It's rather harder to dismiss footage of the abject Montreal marking on Schweinsteiger's goal, which anyone would know would have its own viral life. That clip certainly did nothing for the optics of the league that a supposedly dramatically aging player was competing in. Montreal's defense suggested Schweinsteiger was fizzing with youth.
So it was important that by the time Schweinsteiger came off the field he'd acquitted himself well but knew he'd been in a game, just as it was important, back in David Beckham's time for his impact to be pronounced, but not overwhelming; to win ultimately, but not just by deigning to set foot on the field.
And it's also ironically important that players like Tabla continue to get to be a little lost in the shuffle -- developed cautiously by their clubs and eased into credible professional careers without receiving Freddy Adu-like hype. If there are enough players like Tabla, or Alphonso Davies at Vancouver, or Tyler Adams at New York Red Bulls, coming through, it becomes the critical mass of them that matters and starts to shift the paradigms for successful MLS strategies -- just ask FC Dallas.
So whatever trophy Schweinsteiger goes on to win, or not win, with Chicago Fire, the emerging story of MLS, somewhat obscured by this week's headlines, is that you can't win anything without kids.