|Matchup||Chicago Fire (14-10-6, 48 pts.) at San Jose Earthquakes (11-13-6, 39 pts.)|
|Date||Wednesday, Sept. 27 • 9:30 p.m. CT|
|Location||San Jose, Calif. • Avaya Stadium|
|TV||CSN Chicago Plus (Pregame: 9 p.m. CT)|
|Spanish Radio||Univision América 1200 (WRTO)|
The Chicago Fire's road trip resumes on Wednesday when the club heads west for a midweek Western Conference meeting with the San Jose Earthquakes (9:30 p.m. CT, CSN Chicago) at Avaya Stadium. Both sides enter the matchup looking to rebound from weekend defeats away from home -- for San Jose, a 4-0 loss at D.C. with all four goals scored by forward Patrick Mullins -- and both will be looking to solidify their playoff standing in their respective conferences come kickoff. With playoff urgency building, here are a few key facts, faces and figures to keep in mind:
Key number: 19
Chicago Fire forward Nemanja Nikolic remains poised to break the club's all-time single-season goal mark, having bagged 18 to this point in his first season in MLS. Should he score his 19th on Wednesday night, he'd break his current deadlock with Ante Razov and claim the record for his own. 19 is also prevalent in that it's the number worn by midfielder Juninho, who looks set to miss another game with a left knee injury. Among starting 11 regulars, he's joined by midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger on the injured list, who remains questionable with a calf injury.
Matchup to watch: The Fire central defense vs. Chris Wondolowski
Quakes forward Chris Wondolowski is a known threat from inside the 18-yard box, a trend that has held firm to this point in his 14th MLS season. The 34-year-old has scored nine of his 11 goals this season in front of the Avaya Stadium crowd (no other Quakes player has more than three), and all nine of those have come from inside the box. On paper, it's a fairly cut-and-dry assignment for the likes of Johan Kappelhof, Joao Meira, and Jonathan Campbell. Limit the service to Wondolowski in the 18 and good things should happen.
Tools Up Top
After a midseason shake-up that saw manager Dominic Kinnear ousted in favor of new boss Chris Leitch, the Quakes have seen progress in the contributions of their international crop of attackers complementing Wondolowski. Marco Ureña -- he of the two-goal performance for Costa Rica in a recent World Cup Qualifier vs. the U.S. -- and the likes of Georgian Designated Player Vako, Albanian midfielder Jahmir Hyka and Dutch forward Danny Hoesen -- a former FC Groningen teammate of Michael de Leeuw and Johan Kappelhof -- have begun to find cohesion up front under Leitch.
One Big Question: Can the Fire clinch their playoff spot on the road?
The Fire are very much control their playoff destiny with four matches remaining, and -- with some assistance from New York City FC -- can formally lock up a spot in the postseason if things go well Wednesday night. Should the Fire take care of business in San Jose and Montreal loses or draws against NYCFC, the Fire would at last be officially in. Should the Fire draw away at San Jose, a Montreal loss vs. NYCFC and a New England loss at Orlando City SC would also formally propel Chicago to the 2017 postseason.
Sizing Up The Series
The Fire hold a 14-10-11 record in regular season matches against the San Jose Earthquakes, including a 5-8-5 record in matches played in the Bay Area. Chicago lost its only appearance at Avaya Stadium, a 2-1 defeat in the Quakes' inaugural game at their new home back on March 22, 2015.
Fire midfielder Arturo Alvarez began his professional career when he was selected in the second round (13th overall) of the 2003 MLS SuperDraft by the San Jose Earthquakes. Alvarez made 26 regular season appearances in 2003 and 2004, winning the MLS Cup in his rookie season. Alvarez returned to San Jose in 2008 and played three additional seasons for the Earthquakes, making 54 regular season appearances in his second stint with the club.
On the other side, the Quakes attack could feature an appearance from former Fire forward Quincy Amarikwa, who tallied 14 goals and five assists in all competitions for the Men In Red from 2013-15.
Quote of the Week:
"It’s going to be a really tough game, because of the urgency on both sides."
That's Fire forward Luis Solignac on how he figures each side will approach Wednesday night's meeting. The fourth-place Fire continue the fight to solidify their playoff standing in the East, while the Quakes cling to their postseason hopes following last weekend's 4-0 loss in D.C. Urgency could (and should) be a factor come kickoff.