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ESPN FC  By ESPN staff

Bastian Schweinsteiger welcome to return to Chicago Fire next season

The New York Red Bulls booked their spot in the Eastern Conference semifinals with a comprehensive 4-0 win in Chicago.

The Chicago Fire would welcome back Bastian Schweinsteiger next season, coach Veljko Paunovic said on Wednesday after the club crashed out of the MLS playoffs.

Schweinsteiger contributed only three goals and six assists in 24 games this season after his high-profile move from Manchester United in March.

He was hampered by injuries at the end of the season, making just one substitute appearance over the final seven weeks, and the Fire were already trailing 2-0 when he entered the knockout-stage game against the New York Red Bulls in the second half on Thursday.

The Fire went on to lose 4-0, ending their season, but Paunovic said he would like the former German World Cup winner to return in 2018. Schweinsteiger's contract reportedly holds a mutual option for next season.

"I think this is the moment where we don't have to talk about these things," Paunovic said. "Obviously we want Bastian back, we want to have a man and a player like him on and off the field, but this is not even a question for me -- it's more for [general manager] Nelson Rodriguez, and I think he already responded, so I'm just going to say the same."

Rodriguez has said last week that the Fire hoped to "remain with our original plan" to have "hard discussions at the end of the season," but added that he believed Schweinsteiger and his wife, Ana Ivanovic, were "very comfortable in the city."

Schweinsteiger on Wednesday also referred to Rodriguez's comments, saying only that "we are in talks, we will see how it is, the same with every player here."

The Fire improved with Bastian Schweinsteiger this year, but still lost their opening playoff game.

Chicago finished third in the Weastern Conference, a remarkable achievement after finishing with the worst point-total in MLS a year ago, and Schweinsteiger said the club took a major step forward despite the early playoff exit.

"You need to give the team a little bit of time," Schweinsteiger said. "It was a great success, achievement, what we did this season, and I think you need to add maybe one or two pieces. If you have 10 steps, I think we took seven."

Paunovic took responsibility for the defeat but also remained optimistic on the future, saying: "It's my fault. If there is somebody to blame, it is my fault because I think we all could do better.

"We are sorry that we couldn't progress to the next round, it was a very difficult game for us to start, conceding two goals in the first 15 minutes," he added. "It's tough in playoffs, it's tough to matchup and get back.

"Obviously in the second half we had to risk a little bit more and the feat was tougher and bigger, but not because of the lack of preparation, we ran like hell today, not because of lack of talent, we are all proud of our guys.

"We are so, so happy with the talent that we have and I'm proud of and grateful to all the guys for the effort they did during the whole season."

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