Seeking their first three-match winning streak in nearly two years, the short-handed Chicago Fire look to maintain their stingy defensive ways Saturday at San Jose against the Earthquakes.
The Fire (4-4-4) are unbeaten in their last three matches and last won three straight as part of a four-match run from June 10-July 1, 2017. They have not conceded in 277 minutes since Omar Browne’s goal in a 1-0 loss to the Impact on April 28 and have not recorded four consecutive shutouts in league play since July 11-August 1, 2009.
Chicago, though, will be without two starters for this contest. Defender Bastian Schweinsteiger will serve a one-match ban for yellow card accumulation, while midfielder and current MLS Player of the Week Nicolas Gaitan – who had two goals and two assists in Chicago’s wins over New England and Minnesota in the last two matches – is sidelined with a knee injury.
“We’ve got more options,” right back Johan Kappelhof told the club’s official website. “Basti is out now, but we’ve got quality to replace (him). That’s a good strength we have this year. Even with injuries and suspensions, we can solve that. It’s on the coach (to determine) what he’s going to do, but – whoever is on the field – we are all able to play and we all have quality.”
The Fire’s improved defending has come from a variety of sources, including Kappelhof’s move to right back, Schweinsteiger being dropped to the back line from defensive midfield, and the acquisition of Costa Rica international Francisco Calvo to bolster the spine in central defense.
San Jose (3-2-6) has righted itself to a degree after opening the season with four losses but had a four-match unbeaten streak snapped with last Saturday’s 3-1 loss at New England. The result was surprising given the disarray the Revolution were in heading into the match, but the Earthquakes conceded twice in the first 29 minutes and never recovered.
Vako’s goal on 88 minutes helped San Jose avoid a shutout, and Danny Hoesen became the eighth player in club history with 20 goals and 10 assists after setting up the tally. The challenge for the Earthquakes is to regroup and notch their fourth consecutive home victory, something they have not accomplished since 2017.
“We committed the same mistakes we made at the beginning of the season,” Quakes boss Matias Almeyda said, “but we still played a great match. In reality, we have to quickly get back up from our defeat especially since we were just improving.”
Helping to that end will be having midfielder Cristian Espinoza, who sat out the loss due to suspension. The Argentine midfielder has two goals and three assists, all coming in his last six matches.
The Fire have won the last three matches between the teams, including a 2-1 victory in Chicago in last year’s lone matchup on goals by Alan Gordon and Aleksandar Katai on either side of halftime.
Veteran Earthquakes striker Chris Wondolowski, who still is looking for his 145th goal to move him into a tie with Landon Donovan for the most in MLS history, has six goals in 14 career matches versus Chicago.
(Johan Kapelhof photo courtesy Chicago Fire official Twitter account)
(Earthquakes group photo courtesy San Jose Earthquakes official Twitter account)