All-time record: Fire lead 11-7-9.
11 p.m. ET, ESPN Deportes, ESPN3 (live streaming); CSN California (Bay Area), CLTV & Comcast Sports Network Plus (Chicago)
A preseason prop bet that San Jose would make the playoffs for the first time since being re-established in 2008 while Chicago would miss out for just the second time in 13 seasons would have elicited long odds at a Vegas sports book. But it also would most likely have paid off.
The Earthquakes have been aiming all year at the 40-point barrier, knowing that in the past it’s been a benchmark for postseason admittance. With a 5-1-1 record in their last seven games, San Jose’s total is almost into the 40s, with six matches still on the schedule.
For Chicago, things have been moving in reverse despite bringing in Designated Players Nery Castillo and Freddie Ljungberg. The Fire haven’t scored in 362 minutes and if they don’t get on the board by the 33rd minute against the Quakes, they’ll establish a new team record for futility.
San Jose Earthquakes
Coach Frank Yallop said early in the season that the Quakes are “not really a long, 20-pass-possession team.” Well, don’t look now, but San Jose are on their way to becoming the kind of team that can bring a little bit of jôgo bonito to MLS.
Last Saturday in Toronto, the Quakes put together their best buildup of the season, stringing together eight passes to move from 25 yards in front of their own goal to the Reds’ six-yard box, where an open Chris Wondolowski slotted home a beautiful low cross from Ryan Johnson in the 53rd minute.
The assist was Johnson’s fifth of the season, and it was followed quickly by his sixth (in the 67th, also cashed in by Wondolowski) and almost a seventh (in the 85th, feeding Geovanni for a one-on-one chance with goalkeeper Stefan Frei.)
That extends a season-high mark for Johnson, who had only three career assists coming into this year. With Wondolowski picking up the finishing slack, the improved passing ability from Johnson might be the best use of the Quakes’ other forward spot, which has at times been home to Johnson, Cornell Glen and Scott Sealy.
After playing at five different positions in five matches – second striker, left wing, center midfield, front-running forward and right wing – Wondolowski may have found a home, at least in the mind of Yallop.
“He’s playing wide right and he gets a hat trick,” Yallop said of Wondolowski on Saturday. “We might have to keep him there.”
With Castillo not making the trip west, it appears the Fire will continue to use a two-striker setup. Forward Calen Carr, who made his first start of the season over the weekend, would love to make another in front of friends and family; he’s a Bay Area native who played collegiately at Cal. Carr teamed with Freddie Ljungberg, who is officially considered a question mark because of injury, but looked fine in training on Tuesday.
Coach Carlos de los Cobos said earlier in the week that rookies Kwame Watson-Siriboe and Steven Kinney will be in the Fire’s starting lineup, at center back and right back, respectively. With Dasan Robinson also expected to return to the middle of Chicago’s defense, veteran C.J. Brown, who has started all but one of Chicago’s 24 matches to this point, will likely take a seat.
Using Kinney means that recent acquisition Bratislav Ristic could move back to his natural spot in the midfield. De los Cobos also said he wants to get a look at rookie midfielder Corben Bone, who has played just 48 minutes in an injury-shortened season.
Heroes & Villains
Jon Busch vs. Sean Johnson: Goalkeepers don’t go head-to-head, of course, but it’s impossible not to draw comparisons when one team features a ‘keeper that got dropped by the other just before Opening Day.
Busch, waived by Chicago just before the Fire’s opener and signed the following week by the Quakes, didn’t get into a game until after the World Cup break. He gave up the job briefly after an ugly own goal lost San Jose a match in Colorado, 1-0. But Joe Cannon broke his ankle a week later, and in six matches since then, Busch has a 0.83 GAA and a 4-1-1 record.
Johnson has impressed at times since taking over for Andrew Dykstra, who was originally expected to replace Busch. Outside of a four-goal outburst by Houston, Johnson has been solid, but let down by an offense in deep-freeze mode; Chicago has scored twice in an 0-4-2 slide out of playoff contention.
“Goalkeeping-wise, they’re doing just fine,” Busch said of the Fire. “Sean’s a very good up-and-coming goalkeeper, one for the future. He and I talk quite a bit. He’s a good kid and a good goalkeeper. He’s done well for them this year.”
Stat that makes you go “Hmm...”
Only once in their last nine matches have the Quakes gotten goals from a player other than Wondolowski, who has bagged a half-dozen in that time frame. Khari Stephenson and Geovanni both scored in a 2-1 win at Houston on Sept. 5.