It took six long and largely disappointing seasons, but the Chicago Fire are finally back in the playoffs.
The Fire defeated the San Jose Earthquakes, 4-1, at Avaya Stadium on Wednesday night, clinching a spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Nemanja Nikolic scored goals 19 and 20 on the night, tying Portland’s Diego Valeri for the league lead. He scored his first goal in the 48th minute, beating the San Jose backline before beating Earthquakes’ goalkeeper Andrew Tarbell.
Nikolic’s second goal came in the 65th minute as he headed in a ball that deflected off of the crossbar on an original pass from Michael deLeeuw. Tarbell looked at it and thought it was bouncing out before realizing it came back in and Nikolic finished the rest.
The Earthquakes had a few opportunities to pull closer early in the match, most notably on a point-blank shot by Marco Ureña. However, Fire goalkeeper Richard Sanchez made the stop and several others throughout the night.
Despite the lack of just about everything on the night, the Earthquakes did manage to pull one goal back when Chris Wondolowski scored in the 87th minute, his 12th goal of the season. That goal ties him with Jaime Moreno for third on MLS’s all-time goalscoring list.
The Fire remain in fourth place in the East with the win (15-10-6, 51 points).
The Earthquakes (11-14-6, 39 points) tumbled from sixth place to eight place on Wednesday night after FC Dallas’ victory over Colorado and Houston’s draw with the LA Galaxy.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Chicago Fire goalkeeper Richard Sanchez had a very solid night in goal for the Fire. He made numerous clutch saves, preserving the clean sheet including stopping a shot at point blank by Marco Ureña early in the second half. He also stopped Chris Wondolowski at point blank later on in the half.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH
Nemanja Nikolic’s second goal put the Fire up 4-0in the second half and placed the stamp on a very poor second half by Earthquakes keeper Andrew Tarbell on the night.
MATCH TO FORGET
Earthquakes’ goalkeeper Andrew Tarbell had a decent first half, despite allowing a pair of goals to Chicago. He had a poor second half, allowing a pair of early goals to the Fire including getting caught ball-watching on Nikolic’s second goal of the game, putting Chicago up 4-0 in the 65th minute.