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San Jose Earthquakes 4, Chicago Fire 1: What We Learned

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Sifting through the wreckage of the Fire’s worst performance of the year

MLS: Chicago Fire at San Jose Earthquakes Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

The big story from Saturday, the one no one can shut up about, is Chris Wondolowski becoming the all-time leading goalscorer in Major League Soccer. Wondo is a legend, Wondo is an icon, blah blah blah.

I don’t want to take too much away from Wondo’s achievement (except I kinda do) but this is a perfect example of one of the knock-on effects of not winning. When you chronically underachieve, you lose control over your own stories. You’ll get tut-tutting thinkpieces later on, but in the immediate aftermath, the stories end up being about your opposition. Even if you win, the story isn’t that you won; it’s that your opponents lost. To you, of all people.

This team needs to tell better stories about itself. To do that, they need to win.

In the meantime, these are the stories we get. Here’s what we learned from Quakes 4-1 Fire.

Tired And Emotional

Probably the thing that struck me most about the game was how gassed everyone looked.

Given that it’s only May, and there was no midweek fixture to juggle, there’s no reason why anyone should’ve been tired. Even with the cross-country travel. But the team— and the back line in particular— all looked like they had just been woken up from a nap that lasted a little too long.

I’m not sure how this technical staff allows players to run out onto the pitch despite not being entirely match fit and still keeps their jobs, but here we are.

The Defense Still Has Some Glaring Deficiencies

On balance, the Fire likely would’ve lost this game no matter what. But letting Wondo put four past them is an utter failure of the back line.

Francisco Calvo ball-watching on the first goal. The defense leaving David Ousted to solve a problem on its own— who then made some supremely bad decisions to let in the second goal. Bad positioning and a professional foul that failed to actually kill the play led to the third goal. More bad positioning and a failure to protect and support the goalkeeper allowed the fourth.

Three clean sheets in a row was good, but we all knew the team couldn’t keep it up forever. Yet offering such a hapless and pathetic surrender like they did against San Jose is simply unconscionable.

Niko Is Creating More Problems Than He’s Solving

We fretted a lot about Nemanja Nikolic in the beginning of the season. While acknowledging that he had valid reasons for not being in top form when the 2019 campaign began— not least of which was his wife having a kid— there was still cause for concern with his lack of production. Some of our readers— and others who pointedly don’t read our coverage but have opinions about it nonetheless— voiced outrage over our position.

I’m not going to say I Told You So, if for no other reason than this is absolutely not a thing any of us here at Hot Time ever wanted to be right about. But the fact of the matter is that Niko can’t hit the broad side of a barn, and I’m not sure if it’s actually going to get better.

His missed sitter near the end of the first half— a header from three yards out into a nearly empty net that somehow still flew over the crossbar— could, in isolation, be viewed as a fluke. Shit Happens, you could say. But there have been just a few too many of these kind of misses this season. This isn’t just bad timing and it’s not just circumstances. Nikolic has regressed.

In a functional club, the head coach and the technical staff would be having difficult conversations about what to do about this situation, with several contingencies, including benching one of their star DPs, on the table. As it is, the Fire are just going to stick with him and hope things work out.

That’s not good enough anymore. But here we are.


What were some of your takeaways from the game? Let us know in the comments below.