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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. An early Djordje Mihailovic goal put the Quakes down at 14′, which was caused by Francois Affolter playing too high and allowing a Matt Polster throughball 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.
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.