After dropping three points in D.C. on Saturday, the Quakes must take advantage of their remaining home matches to have any chance at a playoff berth. Their first opportunity is tonight versus the Chicago Fire.
The Fire are tied with the Quakes for the longest active streak of seasons without a playoff appearance in MLS–neither have made the dance since 2012. However, with the Fire playing strong footy in the East, it looks like they will extinguish their playoff drought and officially hand the title of “League’s Most Inept Team” to San Jose should the Quakes lose tonight. The Fire sit in fourth place in the East with 48 points, six clear of the sixth place New York Red Bulls. The Quakes are tied with the Houston Dynamo for sixth with 39 points, with San Jose holding the edge in overall wins.
Chicago’s Bundesliga DP Bastian Schweinsteiger is probably out with a calf and thigh injury, which could be a huge opportunity for San Jose. Ever since Schweinsteiger’s arrival, the Chicago have turned their fortunes from futility to glory. In 2014, the Fire finished ninth in the East. In 2015 and 2016, they finished last in all of MLS. Also, Chicago has not performed well on the road this season with just a 3-8-4 record. Hopefully the Fire can return to their form of seasons past and continue their road struggles tonight at Avaya Stadium.
Without Schweinsteiger, the Fire are still very formidable. The duo of Nemanja Nikolic and David Accam have put up 32 total goals this season alone. By comparison, the Quakes have managed 32 goals as a team. San Jose’s defense will have to have an answer for Nikolic and Accam.
Expect a 4-2-3-1 from the Fire with Nikolic as the #9 forward. Accam should start in the attacking midfield, along with former Quake Arturo Alvarez (2010-2012) and Luis Solignac as the central mid. USMNT vet Dax McCarty and Drew Conner should start as the defensive mids with a backline of Matt Polster (2016 USMNT January Camp call-up), Johan Kappelhof, Jonathan Campbell, and Brandon Vincent. Matt Lampson will be in goal.
San Jose cannot have a repeat performance of last Saturday’s match in which the Quakes allowed the league’s worst offense (D.C. United) to score four goals, courtesy of Patrick Mullins. Head Coach Chris Leitch should return to basics with Tarbell in goal, and a four-man back-line to try and contain Chicago’s attack: a healthy Nick Lima at right-back, Victor Bernardez and Flo Jungwirth as the center-backs, and Shea Salinas at left-back. A 4-1-3-2 would give San Jose the opportunity to play Godoy as #6 defensive mid with five quality attackers: Tommy Thompson, Vako, and Hoesen on the serving up through-balls to Marco Urena and Chris Wondolowski up top.
Final Score Predictions
A must win at home after a demoralizing defeat on the road, the Fire without Bastian in a midweek game while looking ahead to NYCFC, and a rested Anibal Godoy and Victor Bernardez should give the Quakes enough veteran experience to keep the game close. So long as Leitch doesn’t overthink his lineup and runs a formation with his best players all on the field (Lima, Flo, Bernardez, Godoy, Vako, Hoesen, Urena, Wondo), the Quakes should be able to pick up a 2-1 win. If Leitch goes with Imperiale, Affolter, Sarkodie, or Yueill, expect a 2-1 defeat.