Jun 2, 2018; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Fire goalkeeper Richard Sanchez (45) makes a save San Jose Earthquakes defender Jimmy Ockford (15) during the second half at Bridgeview Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports
The San Jose Earthquakes fell behind by two goals early in the second half against the Chicago Fire, but they didn’t give up on their comeback attempt, scoring once through Danny Hoesen’s late strike and almost finding an equalizer in stoppage time.
Nonetheless, the 2-1 decision in favor of the Fire at Toyota Park dropped the Quakes to their third straight loss, and the team is falling further behind the field in the Western Conference. San Jose has a lot of ground to make up and not a lot of time to make it happen.
Second best once again
The Earthquakes felt they deserved a point against their California Clasico rivals a week ago, when they instead lost to the LA Galaxy. After all, an almost mistake-free performance on the road was a marked improvement for a side that too often created its own problems through poor play and decision-making.
Against the Fire, a team coming in with tired legs following two road games earlier in the week, the Quakes started off on the front foot but couldn’t take advantage. Instead, as has been the pattern for much of 2018, a self-inflicted wound gave Chicago the lead.
On what could be considered a routine cross into the area by the Fire, goalkeeper Andrew Tarbell made the wrong decision as to what action to take. Alan Gordon was bearing down on the floated ball, destined for the edge of the six-yard box, and Tarbell decided to protect the goal line instead of proactively punching the ball away. His chose poorly.
Gordon, the former Quake, one of many heroes of San Jose’s 2012 Supporters’ Shield campaign, rose high to meet the cross and head the ball past the backpedaling ‘keeper. It was the forward’s third goal in three games, his fourth of the season, and it took the wind out of the Earthquakes bright start to the game.
Chicago added a second goal early in the second half, and the body language from throughout the Quakes squad looked anything but encouraging. Danny Hoesen scored his seventh goal of the season with 20 minutes to play, and San Jose put together a spirited effort to get another, but the final whistle soon sounded on another loss.
“We want to win, and I prefer to play worse and get some points,” Hoesen said. “This is part of the game and in the situation we are now, we have 21 games left and we need to get going.”
The math isn’t looking good for San Jose, which currently has nine points from its first 13 games in 2018. To achieve 50 points on the season, the threshold traditionally crossed by postseason eligible teams, the Quakes will need to earn better than 1.95 points per game the rest of the way. Not impossible, but not realistic if they don’t improve immediately.
The Earthquakes’ only goal of the evening was a thing of beauty, but it also proved to be the only offensive highlight they could muster against the Fire. Valeri “Vako” Qazaishvili, who featured more as a centrally-stationed attacking midfielder and looked good doing so, started the sequence when he picked out Chris Wondolowski racing up the right channel and into Chicago’s end.
The Quakes’ captain collected the pass and, spying Hoesen making a run into the area, pinged a perfect cross in front of goal for the Dutch striker to redirect into the back of the net. The quickness of the attack was itself refreshing, especially given how methodical the Earthquakes had played to that point, and the team’s collective shoulders lifted from their earlier slump.
“I was one on one with my defender in the box,” Hoesen said. “I just chose my position far post first, and as soon as he turned his head towards the ball I knew I could go near post. It was a perfect cross and a good goal I think.”
For eight seasons, the leading scorer in San Jose has been Wondolowski, but with his seventh goal of the season, Hoesen has taken a sizable lead in that category in 2018. The last time someone not named Wondo reached goal number seven was in 2012, when Simon Dawkins (8), Steven Lenhart (10) and Gordon (13) contributed to the best offensive team in club history.
“Goals only matter if you win,” Hoesen said “We scored, but now we have zero points again. For us now, it doesn’t matter how we are going to win, we just need to start winning games and I think today we had more possession, but I think the final ball was missing a little bit. Sometimes I think that we have to play quicker, and we get two or three chances and we score a goal.”
The Quakes only goal against the Fire did come quickly, and the approach might be a way to increase the scoring tally in future games, but only if the team is setup to play such a style. The personnel on the field as a whole have shown glimpses of such an approach, but there’s been no consistency in the end product.
Beware of ghosts
When Gordon was traded by the Quakes to the Galaxy midway through the 2014 season, it came on the heels of the outspoken forward’s critical comments on the state of the team and the coaching staff. San Jose was mired in a slump, and by the time the dust settled, the team had suffered through a 15-game winless streak.
Gordon was a fan favorite with the Earthquakes and, in part due to his honesty, a positive influence in the locker room. That he rose to the occasion to haunt the Quakes in scoring the Fire’s first goal came as little surprise to those who know him best.
The 2-1 defeat in Chicago also conjures up unhappy memories of that 2014 campaign, when nothing seemed to go right early in the season, and the rift between players and head coach Mark Watson worsened through the summer months and into the fall. These Quakes haven’t hit the eject button on their sinking season, but the mounting losses have to be taking a toll on team morale.
San Jose has an away game Wednesday at the Portland Timbers as part of the U.S. Open Cup, and the opportunity to embark on an inspiring run in the tournament could not have come at a better time. Last year, the Quakes reached the semifinal round before falling to Sporting Kansas City on penalty kicks. Perhaps this time around they can take another step forward and make the first Open Cup final in the club’s history.
Win or lose midweek in Portland, it doesn’t get any easier for the Earthquakes, as they will return home to Avaya Stadium for a pair of league matches against Los Angeles FC and the New England Revolution, contenders to make the playoffs in their respective conferences. If San Jose wants to salvage their season, they’ll need to exorcise the demons of their slow start to 2018 and find a way to win both games.