The Fire punched their playoff tickets in a commanding 4-1 victory over the San Jose Earthquakes. They did so in impressive fashion without Bastian Schweinsteiger and David Accam available for the game. Schweinsteiger continues to recover from calf and thigh injuries, while Accam was held out in anticipation of another big game against New York City FC this coming weekend.
The win clinched a playoff spot for the Fire but positioning for a home game is still up for grabs entering the final three contests of the season.
A big game from rookie Djordje Mihailovic along with two goals from Nemanja Nikolic showed that the Fire are still capable of beating up on weak defensive teams like San Jose. They led 2-0 at the half but clearly dominated the first forty-five minutes en route to their best overall performance since early July. The two-goal lead could have easily been 3-0 or 4-0 going into the second half after holding a 65-35 possession advantage and placing 8 of their 10 shots on target in the first half.
After the Fire took a 4-0 lead, San Jose enjoyed enough of the ball to bring the possession stats even at 50-50 and they nicked a late goal back but this game wasn't close. The shorthanded Fire completed outclassed a fringe Western Conference playoff team on the road to hold position with other Eastern Conference midweek winners.
The questions now remain surrounding the return of Schweinsteiger and the Fire's ability to beat an Eastern Conference contender in a meaningful game. They'll get a chance on Saturday night.
GK Richard Sanchez (6.5) – San Jose collected 20 shots but many of them weren’t particularly dangerous. He did show poise and confidence in the box throughout with a good command of balls in the air and excellent positional awareness. Made one of his eight saves with his face in the 57thth minute but the most impressive part of that stop was his agility in moving laterally to get to the spot in the first place.
D Brandon Vincent (6) – The Fire didn’t need both outside backs bombing up the flanks in this match with San Jose allowing plenty of room in the middle of the field. Vincent played a solid team game on both ends.
D Jonathan Campbell (6.5) – Stepping back into the lineup for Meira, Campbell was very good early with two stops in the box before the Fire took the lead. He helped set up the fourth goal with a good ball over the top to set de Leeuw up on a chance that eventually resulted in Nikolic’s second score.
D Johan Kappelhof (6) – This would have been a tick higher had Wondolowski not slipped by him late in the game to glance in an easy header ruining the clean sheet. Fire defenders didn’t put up big numbers, but kept San Jose attackers in front of them for the most part and limited clean looks despite 20 attempts.
D Matt Polster (7) – Very good in the flow of the offense. When the Fire are successful, his runs and involvement take the attack to another level as they were in this game. Assisted on the first goal, playing a pivotal role in a good combination play. Provided other chances as well. This might have been a tick higher if he didn’t get caught too high and looking forward on a few occasions.
M Dax McCarty (7) – The Fire had complete control of the midfield in the first half when the tone of the game was established. Much of that credit can be handed to McCarty, who directed the traffic while completing 90% of his passes. The Fire held a 65-35 possession advantage in the first half and were clearly the better side from the start.
M Djordje Mihailovic (7) – Easily his best game as a pro. A clean finish and well taken shot in the 14th minute gave the Fire a lead and a secondary assist in finding de Leeuw free in the 40th led to the 2-0 lead. Involved in other chances in the first half as well. Less effective in the second half, but it didn’t matter by then.
M Arturo Alvarez (6) – Involved in the build-up for the first goal and played a part in several quality passing sequences. Well taken free kick in the 22nd forced Tarbell into a difficult stretching save.
M Michael de Leeuw (7) – His volley on the fly from a pass over the top to find Solignac for the second goal in the 40th minute was a piece of tremendous skill. His chip attempt in the 65th hit the crossbar but landed in front of goal for Nikolic to push it over the line. Completed 26 of his 27 pass attempts and played a very good all-around game.
M Luis Solignac (6.5) – Scored the Fire’s second goal on a diving header in the 40th minute and set up Nikolic for the third goal by intercepting Tarbell’s ill-advised pass attempt in the middle of the field and dribbling into the penalty area from there.
F Nemanja Nikolic (7) – Scored two goals in the second half to put the game away and also had several other chances in the first half. A shot in the fourth minute after a Polster pass was just wide and a well taken shot from distance in the 20thforced Tarbell into a good stop.
D Joao Meira (6) – Replaced Polster in the 69th. Solid tackle on Hoesen in the 74thand blocked shot on Vako in the 78th were solid contributions.
M Drew Conner (5) – Subbed in for Nikolic in the 75th. Didn’t give up too much space but also didn’t close down on Qazaishvili allowing a cross in to find Wondolowski for the only San Jose goal.
M Brandt Bronico (5) – Came on for McCarty in the 83rd. Also failed to close down the cross on the San Jose goal.