On Saturday the Fire played at Philadelphia, a team out of the playoff race with an average home record, and lost. Now the Fire head to San Jose, a team with plenty to play for and only one loss at home this year.
The Earthquakes are 8-1-5 at home this season and square on the playoff bubble with less than a month remaining in the regular season. San Jose (11-13-6, 39 points) is tied with Houston on points for the sixth and final playoff spot, but the Dynamo hold a game in hand.
The Fire play at San Jose Wednesday on CSN+ (channel finder) with coverage beginning at 9 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live.
Both teams played three times zones away from San Jose on Saturday. While the Fire lost at the Union, the Earthquakes got smoked 4-0 by D.C. United in RFK Stadium’s second to last MLS game.
The long travel on short rest makes the game tricky for both, but that’s not how Fire midfielder Dax McCarty sees it.
“I think it’s good to have a lot of games back-to-back,” McCarty said last week. “You want to continue to gain positive momentum. The more games you can play and the less you can train, the better the players feel.
“Obviously this is crunch time now. This is the most important part of the season where you want to have the right balance between getting guys games, getting guys fitness, making sure the results are there, but also making sure guys are getting rest because this is where you start to see heavy legs if you have a team that hasn’t rotated a lot. I think we’ve done a good job of getting young guys on the field, getting a lot of guys minutes and rotating.”
Much of the rotation within the Fire’s lineup recently has been due to injury. The team had three starters on defense come back from injury in the past four games and is currently without midfielders Bastian Schweinsteiger, who has missed the last three games, and Juninho, who has missed the last two games.
Juninho’s knee injury has kept him out yet again. Schweinsteiger was listed as questionable on the injury report. The Athletic’s Guillermo Rivera reported that Schweinsteiger will miss the game.
Schweinsteiger has had multiple minor injuries, which is why his status has been so unpredictable. He initially left the Aug. 16 game in Montreal due to a right thigh injury, but also had a nasty bruise on his calf on a hard foul. The calf injury was the primary reason he missed the next two games, but the thigh injury appears to have gotten worse and kept him from being at training in the leadup to the game at Philadelphia.
With a big game against New York City FC, which is in second place and four points ahead of the Fire, coming up on Saturday, the Fire will want Schweinsteiger back by then.
“Now, this is where you need your big players to step up and perform,” McCarty said. “Your leaders and your older players and your guys that are on the higher end of the salary spectrum. They have to step up and start to really prove their worth because this is the time of the season where it really counts and where it matters most so we’re going to need all that to fall in place for us if we’re going to have a special playoff run.”
Chicago Fire at San Jose Earthquakes
Where: Avaya Stadium (San Jose, Calif.)
TV: CSN + (channel finder)
When: Coverage begins at 9 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live
Records: Fire (14-10-6, 48 points), Earthquakes (11-13-6, 39 points)