How about that match on Wednesday? The emotional roller coaster, the uncertainty, the drama. It had it all. And if you (somehow) missed it, or just want to relive it, please take two minutes and 11 seconds to watch the highlights below.
Let’s refocus our attention to Sunday. The results vs. Seattle and Vancouver have put the San Jose Earthquakes in the driver’s seat to advance to the Knockout Round. The outcome of Sunday’s match vs. Chicago will go a long way towards deciding the fate of the Earthquakes in the MLS is Back Tournament. Here is a basic breakdown:
Best case scenario: A win would see San Jose earn first place in the group with seven points. No other team in the group would be able to get more than six points when all is said and done.
Possible scenario: A draw would see the Quakes temporarily remain in first place and officially punch their ticket to the Knockout Round. Chicago’s third match next Thursday vs. Vancouver would decide whether San Jose finishes in first or second place.
Worst case scenario: A loss means there is still a lot up in the air. Four points should still see the Quakes advance, but a Seattle victory in their final match could mean the Quakes fall to third on goal differential and would then have to earn one of four wild cards. The good news here is no potential third-place team in Group A could finish with more than three points, so ultimately San Jose would just need to be better than one of the other four third-place teams.
Chicago, who has only played one game in the tournament to date due to unforeseen changes, had a tremendous start to the competition by defeating Seattle 2-1 earlier this week, lifting their overall regular season record to 1-1-1. Chicago did appear fresher than their counterparts on Tuesday, who were playing on short rest.
Fire FC are led up top by forward Robert Beric, who has scored in two of their first three games this season. The Slovenian was Chicago’s major signing in the offseason and comes to MLS after a decorated career in Europe.
With the Earthquakes on the cusp of the Knockout Round, head coach Matias Almeyda could approach Sunday one of two ways: Aggressive and go for the group title, or conservative and play to advance. You’d have to truly misunderstand the Argentine, and by extension his players, to assume anything but a plan for victory.
“You will expect the same team that you see in every game, a San Jose that always wants to win,” said midfielder Cristian Espinoza on Friday. “We go out to win every game, regardless of the opponent. That’s the only goal we have in mind. If we want to go far in this tournament and become champions, that the mindset we must all have. We won’t achieve anything if we go out with speculations.”
Almeyda has used the same lineup in each of the first two matches, so there could be an opportunity for rotation. Perhaps Chris Wondolowski or Danny Hoesen makes the start at striker; maybe Shea Salinas or Carlos Fierro take the field on the wings. We won’t know until an hour before kickoff.
Sunday’s match, presented by Sutter Health, kicks off at 5 p.m. PT and will be broadcast live on FS1, TUDN, KNBR 1050 and 1370 KZSF.