SAN JOSE, Calif. – The location changed, but the scoreline for the San Jose Earthquakes remained infuriatingly and painfully similar Wednesday night.
Four days after collapsing in a 4-0 loss at D.C. United – a road defeat that followed the same contours of earlier away blowouts to Toronto FC, Real Salt Lake and the Houston Dynamo – the Quakes returned home to their bastion of Avaya Stadium, to face the Chicago Fire. But this time, even their fortress could not save San Jose as the Fire rolled up a 4-1 victory.
Once Chicago rookie Djordje Mihailovic was sprung free to finish off a gorgeous bit of dissection-by-short-passing in the 14th minute, the Quakes once again simply wilted - and their playoff hopes waned along with them. The Fire poured in three more goals over the next 50 minutes.
San Jose’s players and coaches were left at a loss as to why the Quakes – who now hold the league’s worst goal differential at minus-23 – were once again unable to deal with adversity, even as they were getting passed by FC Dallas and the Dynamo to fall back to eighth place in the Western Conference.
“If we concede a goal, we’re done,” said San Jose defender Florian Jungwirth. “I’m sure it’s mentality-wise. It’s not the first time. Maybe it’s the first time at home, but if you see the games on the road, we lose with three or four goals’ difference, every time. I’ve never seen that before. It’s tough to have an explanation for that. We talk a lot about that, but we can’t handle that. It makes me angry.”
Coach Chris Leitch didn’t have any ready-made answers.
“We’ve done this too many times, where we concede and the second one’s not too far behind,” Leitch said. “Goals happen in games, so it’s not like this is new to anyone. Goals happen, you’ve got to deal with it, for sure.”
Goals happen even more than normal when teams play the Fire with Nemanja Nikolic in form. Chicago’s star tallied twice in the second half – putting his season total at 20 – to put any doubts to rest.
“You play a team like Chicago, if they have a good day, they can be a class better than you,” Jungwirth said. “Then you know you have to do something better than them. You have to have a very good mentality. You have to surprise them. But from the very first minute, we didn’t know how to handle it. We had no match plan, how to play against them. We can lose 7- or 8-1, to be honest.”
San Jose has little time to dwell on what club captain Chris Wondolowski called the nadir of San Jose’s up-and-down season, with the rested Portland Timbers coming in on the weekend.
“The sign of a good team is how you bounce back when you’re at your low,” said Wondolowski, who tallied late to tie Jaime Moreno as the league’s third-leading all-time scorer, with 133 goals. “To be honest, this is our low right now. We’re going to find out [how the Quakes respond] on Saturday. I’m hoping, I’m expecting us to come back and play the way we’re capable of, the way we played against Portland earlier this year [in a 3-0 win on May 6]. That’s the team I’m expecting to come out [Saturday], not the team tonight.”