SAN JOSE, Calif. – They may have been visiting California, but this was no vacation for the Chicago Fire, who didn’t let the location of their business trip slow their efficiency at crossing items off the club’s to-do list Wednesday night.


From Djordje Mihailovic’s first career MLS goal to Nemaja Nikolic’s 19th and 20th on the year, the Fire simply outclassed the San Jose Earthquakes en route to a 4-1 victory that secured Chicago’s first postseason appearance since 2012.


“The guys, they know what they needed to do,” Fire head coach Veljko Paunovic said. “I think the guys were very motivated.


"We just removed all the rocks on the road and the guys performed fantastically.”


With San Jose scrapping desperately to break their own postseason drought and playing on their nearly impregnable home turf, the Fire expected the worst – which, in turn, brought out the best in the visitors. Chicago simply passed the ball over, around, and through the Quakes in a tour de force opening half, collecting almost 65 percent of the possession against a San Jose side trying to play out of the back.


Mihailovic opened his league account in the 14th minute following a slick sequence of passing sparked by right back Matt Polster. Just before halftime, Mihailovic had the critical delivery in a move of nearly 20 passes, finding Michael de Leeuw on the opposite side of the field; de Leeuw’s volleyed cross was headed home on the bounce by Luis Solignac to fully deflate the Avaya Stadium atmosphere.

“We thought, because they’re fighting for the playoffs, it was going to be a tough game, but we were just outstanding as a team,” Mihailovic said. “We could have beat anybody that was on the field against us today. We were that good.”


The second half belonged to Nikolic, who was set up by a bad San Jose turnover and a clever pass from Solignac to break free of Ante Razov and take hold of Chicago’s single-season scoring record in the 48th minute. Then Nikolic simply outhustled ball-watching Quakes goalkeeper Andrew Tarbell to a rebound off the crossbar in the 65th, nodding home the ball to tie Portland’s Diego Valeri atop the league’s Golden Boot leader board.


“I think that players need to believe in themselves,” Nikolic said. “The main thing is that my teammates believe in me, and this give me power to make the [goals] that I make now. I know that this team expects goals from me, and this is what I try to do all the time.”

After going nine straight games without a point – a stretch where Chicago was, not coincidentally, 2-6-1 – Nikolic has provided a combined four goals and one assist in the Fire’s last four matches. Chicago went 2-1-1 in those games to keep themselves in the running for a potential top-two finish in the Eastern Conference.


“I’m going to say this over and over again,” Paunovic said. “Niko does his job and everyone else on the field, when we do that, we get points, we get goals, we win games.”


Chicago now has three matches to get ready for the playoffs, with a critical match Saturday against NYCFC, who sit four points ahead of the Fire in the race for the Eastern Conference’s No. 2 seed.


“This is a good project, but this is just a small thing,” Nikolic said. “We don’t want to be just in the playoffs; if you are in the playoffs, you want to make some good things [happen].”