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Fire say goodbye to Bastian Schweinsteiger, hello to Soldier Field

On the day Schweinsteiger retired, the Fire formally returned to Soldier Field.

Oct. 8 is a pivotal date in Fire history. The Great Chicago Fire started on Oct. 8, 1871. On Oct. 8, 1997, the club officially was founded as part of the first MLS expansion.

You can add Oct. 8, 2019, to that list.

About 90 minutes before the Fire formalized their return to Soldier Field, midfielder/defender Bastian Schweinsteiger announced his retirement.

Schweinsteiger, 35, told coach Veljko Paunovic about two hours before the season finale Sunday in Orlando that he was concluding his decorated career. After the game, he told his teammates.

“Saying goodbye as an active player makes me feel a little nostalgic, but I am also looking forward to the exciting challenges that await me soon,” Schweinsteiger wrote on Twitter. “I will remain faithful to football.”

The timing of the formal announcement — which was not made in conjunction with the Fire — came as somewhat of a surprise. Still, the Fire were focusing more on his accomplishments and contributions to the team and the sport.

“I think we all owe him a big thanks and gratitude,” Paunovic said. “He’s been so good for the club, on and off the field.”

The Fire are confident Soldier Field also will be good for the club. And they’ll have plenty of time to make it work.

“Bridgeview was terrific for us, but I think to take this club to the next level in terms of reaching all of Chicago, we need to be located centrally,” owner Joe Mansueto said. “I think the team is going to take a major leap forward in terms of fan engagement, accessibility.

“It was just huge. I think it’s going to change the whole tenor of the club and what it means to the broader Chicago region.”

The deal between the Fire and the city is an 11-year pact, and the first game already has been scheduled for March 21 against Atlanta United. The initial portion of the lease is three years, with two three-year extensions, then two one-year extensions.

Chicago Park District CEO Michael Kelly said “we anticipate it to go all 11 years.” During that time, the Fire will be sharing a stadium with the Bears. Scheduling conflicts could be a late-season concern because the Bears have a five-day window for the facility.

The grass surface also will be closely monitored, and Kelly said the Bears were “heavily considered” when the deal was made.

“I think this field’s going to perform extraordinarily for the Fire,” Kelly said. “It’s going to be great. We’ve got this building down to a science. I’m really excited about the opportunity.”

Indeed, the excitement was palpable at Tuesday’s event, which also included an appearance and remarks by Mayor Lori Lightfoot. The hope is the Fire can emulate successful teams such as Seattle, Atlanta and Portland that are closer to the city center.

“We realize that markets have unique needs and communities have different focal points, particularly young people,” MLS commissioner Don Garber said. “In this case, we thought it was really important to get downtown, and to be in an iconic stadium in a great city was something we worked really hard to achieve.”

Note: Red Stars owner Arnim Whisler said his team is staying in Bridgeview and is “excited to be the SeatGeek primary tenant” in 2020.