Earthquakes second half surge buries Fire 2-0. Advance to round of 16 of MLS Is Back Tournament

San Jose Earthquakes gets sprayed with a can of beer as they celebrate their second win shutting out the Chicago Fire on Sunday 2-0 at the ESPN Wide World Sports Complex in Orlando (theathletic.com photo)

by Marko Ukalovic

ORLANDO, Fla—The San Jose Earthquakes are making a habit of putting teams away in the second half of matches.

They scored two goals to take control in the second 45 en-route to a 2-0 shutout victory over the Chicago Fire FC in their final match of Group B play on Sunday evening at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.

With the win, the Quakes clinched first place with seven points (2-0-1) in Group B of the MLS Is Back tournament and advance to the Round of 16 as they await their next opponent.

“These three games were important for this tournament, and it’s also important for the points in the regular season from the stoppage,” said Quakes head coach Matias Almeyda. “Today, the players are responding in an excellent manner. That makes us and our families happy, especially the people from San Jose that watch and follow us.”

The first half featured an exhibition on passing and not much shooting the ball at the goal. San Jose controlled possession with a 70%-30% advantage, but neither team generated many quality chances.

Magnus Eriksson’s shot attempt in the 25th minute sailed high over the net. Luka Stojanovic had the best chance to score by either team in the 39th minute when Chicago finally applied pressure in the offensive zone. However his right-footed shot also sailed over the net.

San Jose (2-1-2) broke the deadlock in the 56th minute when Andy Rios made a touch pass over to Jackson Yuiell. The Man of the Match then quickly found Cristian Espinoza ahead down the right wing. Espinoza beat Fire defender Francisco Calvo off the ball and lasered a shot into the back corner past goalkeeper Kenneth Kronholm for his first goal of the season.

“We are just excited to be a team again, playing together. I think now these three games have given us a lot of confidence and a lot of momentum. We are just happy to be on the field. We didn’t want this to be our last game for a while, and we want to keep pushing and keep playing together. You can kind of see that everyone has a little bit of a chip on their shoulders to make it as far as we can and to enjoy ourselves. I think that’s why we are doing the best right now,” said Yueill.

It’s Espinoza third goal in 35 games since San Jose acquired him at the start of the 2019 season.

San Jose put the game away in the 83rd minute thanks to its super substitute Chris Wondolowski. Carlos Fierro sent in a perfect cross from the right sideline to an unmarked Wondolowski and the all-time MLS leading goal scorer headed in the ball past Kronholm for his second goal in as many games.

Wondo, who scored 30 seconds after coming in as a sub for Judson in the 82nd minute, increased his record to 161 goals.

“[The substitutions] depend on the game and on what we are experiencing on the bench. But I considered the game still open, and we could have ended it with the substitutions that we made. Fortunately, it ended up in a positive result,” Almeyda said.

Chicago (1-2-1) couldn’t find a way to get a ball past Quakes goalkeeper Daniel Vega. He has recorded two shutouts in three games of group play.

San Jose’s back line, led by Florian Jungwirth, did a good job frustrating Fire forwards Robert Beric and C.J. Sapong and keeping them off the scoresheet.

GAME NOTES: San Jose had 5 corner kicks. Chicago had 3. It was considerably less than the MLS record 22 they had against Vancouver last Wednesday.

Stojanovic was replaced by Fabian Herbers in the second minute of stoppage time in the first half due to an lower body injury he suffered in the first half.

Chicago’s Boris Sekulic (29th minute), Alvaro Medran (53rd minute), Herbers (61st minute) Mauricio Pineda (62nd minute) Gaston Gimenez (58th minute) and San Jose’s Florian Jungwirth (37th minute), Judson (50th minute) and Eriksson (86th minute) received yellow cards.

San Jose is now 12-16-11 all-time against Chicago.

UP NEXT: San Jose awaits their next opponent at the conclusion of group play. Chicago takes on Vancouver as both teams conclude Group B play on Thursday 7/23 at 6:00am at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.

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