Much was made of the promise of “attacking-style” soccer when Chris Leitch took the reigns of the San Jose Earthquakes in late June, at which point the Quakes had a goal differential of -3. Fifteen games later, they have a goal differential of -23 and the third worst scoring record in Major League Soccer.
Leitch’s men were anything but attacking in Wednesday night’s 4-1 defeat to the Chicago Fire, their worst-ever MLS defeat at Avaya Stadium. Presented with a dynamic, in-form opponent, the Quakes crumbled.
“It’s embarrassing,” said club captain Chris Wondolowski.
“This is our low right now.”
Defender Florian Jungwirth offered a damning assessment of tonight’s performance: “We didn’t know how to handle it, we had no match-plan to play against them, so we [could have] lost seven-or-eight-to-one to be honest.”
Barring multiple saves from goalkeeper Andrew Tarbell, the Quakes indeed would have suffered a worse fate. The Quakes were unable to respond after Chicago took an early lead, allowing the Fire’s Nemanja Nikolic, Luis Solignac, and Michael De Leeuw to run rampant. The lack of defensive resilience has been a well-known affliction on the road throughout Leitch’s tenure, but tonight was the first such example at home.
“If a game doesn’t go like we wish and we concede a goal, we are done,” observed Jungwirth.
“It’s mentality…if you’ve seen the games on the road, when we concede a goal, we lose with three or four goals difference every time,” said Jungwirth. “I’ve never seen that before in my career. It’s tough to have an explanation for that…it makes me angry.”
Jungwirth isn’t alone in that sentiment. The team were showered with boos after the defeat, which represents a potentially fatal blow to the club’s playoff hopes. With three games left in the season, they’ll likely need to win out to secure a postseason berth. Their precarious mental state threatens to extinguish even these slim chances.
“Bits and pieces have been good but we can’t put together a complete game and that’s a team effort,” said goalkeeper Andrew Tarbell. This criticism applies to Tarbell himself on the night, as his first-half stops were followed by two costly mistakes in the second period.
There’s ample blame to go around for the defeat, though, and Wondolowski, despite scoring his 133rd MLS goal in the dying minutes, was willing to bear his share. “It’s a lot on myself,” he said. “I think our midfield does a good job of looking to open up a play, but we needed myself to hold the ball up and get us involved, creating more chances and more possession on our offensive third rather than sitting too deep.”
Quite simply, the Quakes lacked the cohesion and intensity of a playoff-quality team like Chicago. At this stage of their campaign, it’s difficult to imagine the turnaround that will be required to salvage their season.
“Every game is a do or die,” said Tarbell. By that reckoning, and for tonight at least, the Quakes died.