Playoff Hopes Roasted by Fire (Chicago Recap)

September 28, 2017

In a must-win, do-or-die, just-don’t-lose match, the Quakes did little to convince their fans that they are eager for post-season play. The Chicago Fire, who were tied with the Quakes for the longest active streak without a playoff appearance, punched their ticket to the post-season with a 4-1 route of the Quakes at Avaya Stadium. While not officially eliminated, the Quakes need to win out and hope other teams drop the ball in order to be playoff participants.

Recap & Stats

The Quakes were sucker-punched early in the game, and never fully recovered. A Djordje Mihailovic goal put the Quakes down at 14′, which was caused by Francois Affolter playing too high and allowing a Matt Polster through-ball to find an unmarked Mihailovic. It was actually the third quality scoring chance mustered by Chicago in the first 15 minutes, which included a Nemanja Nikolic miss at 4′ and Luis Solignac one-on-one with Tarbell at 7′.

The Fire continued their onslaught for most of the half: Nikolic, Arturo Alvarez, and Michael de Leeuw all challenged Tarbell with multiple shots on frame, but heroics from San Jose’s ‘keeper kept the match–and playoff hopes–within reach.

However, Chicago took control at 40′ with Luis Solignac finally beating Tarbell on a cross from Michael de Leeuw. The ball managed to make it by Shea Salinas and Affolter, and Nick Lima was late on the run to prevent the header; center-back Flo Jungwirth can be seen jogging back once his mark Mihailovic gets by him. By the end of the half, the Fire managed 10 shots, eight of which were on frame, while dominating possession 65%-35%. San Jose had seven shots total, four on frame.

The start of the second half killed any spirit the Quakes may have mustered at halftime with Solignac intercepting a lackadaisical pass from Andrew Tarbell to set up Nikolic at 48’ for a three goal lead.

Desperate for any type of goal, San Jose continued to press the offense, but Fire ‘keeper Richard Sanchez would not budge, including making a Save-of-the-Week nominee save on Marco Urena at 57’.

The Fire took advantage of an overzealous offense to solidify the win at 67′ with a Jonathan Campbell long-ball finding de Leeuw, whose shot hit the crossbar, but stayed in play. Tarbell was slow to react to the rebound, allowing Nikolic to score Chicago’s fourth.

Quakes forward/captain Chris Wondolowski scored his 12th goal of the season off a cross from Vako at 86′ to reduce the goal differential to three. Wondo now is equal with Jaime Morena with 133 goals on the All-Time MLS goals list. Wondo finished with seven shots, four shots on frame, a goal, and five turnovers.

Forward Danny Hoesen also deserves some recognition: six shots, three shots on frame, and three key passes.

By the end of the half, the Quakes managed 13 shots with nine coming from inside the 18-yard-box, but only five on frame.

What Went Wrong

The same problems that caused the Quakes to lose in D.C. followed them back to San Jose. Leitch’s choice of players was questionable, including fielding rookie Jackson Yueill and an inconsistent Francois Affolter over Vako and Victor Bernardez in the starting XI. The pre-match report highlighted the need for Head Coach Chris Leitch not to overthink his lineup and to play his best players, but unfortunately the rookie coach used his MLS rookie players (Tarbell, Yueill, Affolter) in a must-win game, of which the Fire took full advantage.

Leitch also failed to make changes when they were due. It wasn’t until 15 minutes after the Fire went up 3-0 that Leitch made is first change: Vako for Lima. By then the match was well out of reach. Leitch also subbed out Tommy Thompson, who completed 100% of his 42 passes, in favor of Jahmir Hyka, a player that’s been Quakes kryptonite since July 4th.

Over their past four games, the Quakes have been outscored 12-2. With Portland coming to town with the league’s leading goal scorer in Diego Valeri (and probably still smarting from their 3-0 defeat at Avaya earlier this season) and a trip to Vancouver on the horizon, the Quakes will need more than a miracle to post victories and pull themselves back into the race for the playoffs.

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