The San Jose Earthquakes not only clinched their spot in the knockout round of the MLS is Back Tournament, they also officially won their group, after defeating the Chicago Fire 2-0 Sunday evening in Orlando.
A feisty first half gave way to a second half where the Earthquakes found some purchase on the game, with the team’s trademark style increasingly leaving the new-look Chicago side baffled.
Matias Almeyda opted to make a couple changes to his lineup on the night, starting Florian Jungwirth in place of Oswaldo Alanís and Paul Marie for Tommy Thompson.
The first half was largely uneventful in terms of scoring chances, with the teams each notching just one shot on goal in the first 45. Chicago’s deep defense helped to limit San Jose’s shots, as they posted a paltry four in the opening frame.
The game woke up with San Jose finding the breakthrough in the 56th minute, Cristian Espinoza opening his account for the season with a nice shot from outside the box.
Just before the 70th minute, a Fire goal was scored, but chalked off as CJ Sapong appeared to foul a Quakes player in the buildup, maintaining San Jose’s lead.
The Earthquakes iced the game in the 83rd minute, as substitutes linked up again for a goal, Carlos Fierro hitting a lofted cross that Chris Wondolowski headed in, cool as you like.
What is interesting from this win is that by their standards, the Earthquakes were remarkably clinical, scoring two goals on just three shots on target on the night.
But while we don’t know if the knockout round will jump up a level, I think the three group stage games have shown that the Quakes are comfortable with their rhythm and able to tweak their approach game by game as needed. Is this Quakes team for real? Time will tell, but after an extremely competent performance to wrap up the top spot in the group, this San Jose team looks like they can still make some noise yet in the MLS is Back Tournament.
With the win, San Jose are officially in the knockout round, and it looks like they would be scheduled to play their Round of 16 game July 27, so they would have just over a week to recover and prepare for the business end of the tournament.
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