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Too Much Pressure: Chicago Fire fall to San Jose Earthquakes, 2-0

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With the victory, San Jose wins Group B of the MLS is Back Tournament. The Fire can still advance to the Round of 16.

MLS: San Jose Earthquakes at Chicago Fire
Miguel Angel Navarro looks on after the loss
Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

The San Jose Earthquakes smothered the Chicago Fire defensively, and dominated possession offensively on the way to a 2-0 win in the MLS is Back Tournament Sunday night, guaranteeing the Quakes finish on top of Group B.

“Credit to San Jose, they’re a team that likes to battle,” Fire forward CJ Sapong said after the match. “I’m not sure we’ve had a game like that yet, so it’s a good lesson to learn, and I think we’ll take from it moving forward.”

The Fire did well to fight the pressure through the first half, nearly scoring when Robert Berić sent a screaming pass to CJ Sapong inside the six yard box. But, the two couldn’t connect in what was the Fire’s best scoring chance of the night.

“I was maybe a half second too late,” Sapong said. “When it comes to these games, with all the different factors, you gotta be on top of your game, and be mentally aware at every moment. That’s a ball that maybe with 10 games under my belt with Robert, I sense that coming earlier, and I can get there.”

Fire head coach Raphael Wicky predicted last week scoring chances might be rare in this match, because of San Jose’s dominance in possession. The Quakes had around 70 percent of the ball on the night.

“I think the lesson is in these games you don’t have ten chances. You have a few, and you need to be clinical,” Wicky said.

San Jose’s opening goal came in the 56th minute, when Jackson Yueill slipped a ball through to a streaking Cristian Espinoza, who exploited a gap between Francisco Calvo and Mauricio Pineda. Calvo was playing a little too deep, and held Espinoza onside, but the goal was really a combination of a great play by San Jose, with a team breakdown by Chicago.

And with that first goal, San Jose grabbed control of the match.

“We fought hard, we kept going, we competed. That was very important to us,” Fire defensive midfielder Gastón Giménez said via a translator after the match. “We knew whoever scored the first goal was going to have a chance to win the game, and they did it.”

MLS: San Jose Earthquakes at Chicago Fire
Gaston Giménez passes the ball in the second half vs. San Jose
Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

As the game went on, San Jose’s high-pressure, man-marking defensive system wore on Chicago, with the Fire picking up four yellow cards within a nine minute stretch of the second half.

“It was a hectic game. there was screaming, lots of little fouls, and yeah, they got a little frustrated, probably,” Wicky said of his players.

Offensively, the Earthquakes were much cleaner on the ball. Chicago completed just 73 percent of their passes—with only a 57 percent pass completion rate in their final offensive third.

San Jose put the game away in the 83rd minute, when Chris Wondolowski scored off a header 30 seconds after coming into the match. The league’s all-time leading goal scorer was left completely unmarked by the Fire defense.

With the victory, San Jose wins Group B. The Fire sit in second place in the table after earning three points in the win over the Seattle Sounders. Chicago has one more match to play in the group stage—a Thursday morning game against the Vancouver Whitecaps (8 a.m. CT, ESPN). The top two teams from each group advance, as well as the four best third place teams across the six groups.

So, the Fire still control their own destiny. A win against Vancouver guarantees second place, and a draw would put Chicago on four points, squarely in the mix for one of the third place wild card spots.

“It’s important to keep your heads up,” Wicky said. “It’s a football game. We lost a football game today. We won one the last time. You can’t be when you win on the top, and when you lose on the bottom. You have to keep steady emotions. We’re gonna stand up again, we’re gonna keep working, we’re a good team.”

Other notes:

  • The Fire’s young designated player, Ignacio Aliseda, finally made his MLS debut—with just one minute left in the match. Wicky had said earlier this week Aliseda was not injured, and would need to fight to earn his playing time. Elliot Collier was Wicky’s first choice to come on at forward, replacing Sapong in the 71st minute, so it appears Aliseda may have some work to do in training.
  • Luka Stojanović had to leave the game just before halftime with an apparent knee injury. Wicky said after the match he hadn’t yet had the chance to talk to the medical staff about the extent of the injury.

Chicago Fire FC (5-3-2) GK Kronholm; D Navarro, D Calvo (c), D Pineda (Mihailovic 72’), D Sekulić (Aliseda 90’), D Frankowski; M Giménez, M Stojanović (Herbers 45’), M Medrán; F Berić, F Sapong (Collier 71’)

Subs not used: Bornstein, Bronico, Casas, Omsberg, Reynolds II, G. Slonina, N. Slonina, Sparrow

San Jose Earthquakes: GK Vega, D Jungwirth, D Lima (F Hoesen 82’), D Marie (D Thompson 69’), D Kashia, M Eriksson ©, M Yueill, M Judson (F Wondolowski 82’), F Espinoza (F Fierro 82’), F Vako (F Salinas 69’), F Rios

Subs not used: GK Bersano, D Alanis, D Beason, M Calvillo, M Felipe, M Skahan, F Cowell