On Fire: Johnson shows well, but defense forced to shuffle
The Chicago Fire’s playoff hopes took a major hit Saturday night when their two-game league winning streak came to a lackluster end with a 2-0 loss at the San Jose Earthquakes.
The loss, which was Chicago’s first in five games across all competitions, drops the Fire to 15th place in the league, seven points behind D.C. United for the 10th and final playoff spot.
Here are three other storylines from Saturday’s match:
Johnson shows well
Goalkeeper Sean Johnson was the Fire’s best player Saturday night, doing his best to keep Chicago in the game with five fine saves.
“He made some great saves,” Fire interim head coach Frank Klopas said of the 22-year-old keeper. “I think he showed a lot of maturity. He’s a young player, and for him to make those important saves — it helped a lot.”
Johnson’s best save came on San Jose forward Chris Wondolowski’s 53rd minute penalty kick. The second-year 'keeper was all over Wondolowski’s spot kick, diving to his right to block the US international’s low drive.
“It was one of those things where I had to make my decision and stick with it and I was able to get two hands on it to make the save,” Johnson said.
Fire defender Dan Gargan picked up his fifth yellow card of the season Saturday night, meaning he’ll be suspended for next weekend’s critical game against Chivas USA.
Gargan, who has been a key player for the Fire since coming over in a trade with Toronto FC on July 28, was booked in the 57th minute for dissent.
“That’s disappointing,” Gargan said. “But that’s part of the game.”
Gargan’s ban means that the Fire will have a starting outside back suspended for two consecutive games. Regular left back Gonzalo Segares missed the San Jose match because of yellow-card accumulation, which forced Gargan, who normally plays on the right, to the left side and regular midfielder Logan Pause to right back.
Gargan, whose poor marking led to Wondolowski’s 10th-minute opener, talked about the makeshift back line’s performance after the match.
“I thought we were OK,” he said. “I think Gonzalo is obviously a proven left back in this league, so to take a guy out of the lineup that’s played 20 games for us, that hurts. Any time you change two positions in your back line, it’s going to take some adjusting.”
Busy week ahead
Chicago don’t have a lot of time to lick their wounds from the San Jose match, going back into action on Wednesday night, when they’ll host Mexican club Chivas Guadalajara in a friendly match at Toyota Park.
The Fire have another quick turnaround after Wednesday’s exhibition, hosting fellow playoff hopefuls Chivas USA on Saturday night. The match will be a must-win for Chicago, who will have a bit of disjointed week in terms of game planning thanks to Wednesday’s friendly.
Sam Stejskal covers the Chicago Fire for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org