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Fire face Quakes as drought lingers

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- The Chicago Fire's season has boiled down to six regular-season matches and a playoff picture that just about is burnt to a crisp.

It could be argued that the Fire's current winless stretch (0-5-2) tops the organization's all-time woeful list, and they'll attempt to put an end to their drought Wednesday, when they travel to Santa Clara, Calif., to face the San Jose Earthquakes.

The seven-match winless skid is the second worst among the Fire's 13 seasons, following only a nine-game winless stretch in 2004 -- the only season the Fire missed the postseason.

Their four-game stretch without a goal is the longest in team history. Chicago's last goal was Collins John's 88th-minute free kick during a 1-1 draw against the Los Angeles Galaxy on Sept. 4. That briefly gave Chicago the lead until Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez headed in the game-tying goal in second-half stoppage time off of a Landon Donovan free kick.

For the season, Chicago's scoring average (1.17) currently is the second-lowest behind only the 2007 season (1.03 average). And the Fire's minus-4 goal differential is third-worst behind the 2004 (minus-8) and 2007 (minus-5) teams.

Despite their slump, Fire players at face value are maintaining a positive tone, even if their self synopsis can be disputed.

"I think we were organized for the most part," Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson said following the Fire's 1-0 loss to Seattle Sounders FC on Saturday. "Early on they had one open header, but we were fine defensively. We were unlucky. Just one play ended up with a deflection of the ball into the back of the net. I think defensively we were fine for the whole game. Teams create chances, and we dealt with them accordingly."

"We dominated the whole game," Freddie Ljungberg said. "We played really well."

Ljungberg's take does not come close to matching what most folks saw in the Toyota Park stands or in press row. And as the Fire (6-10-8) try to right the ship, the Earthquakes (11-7-6) are riding a 5-1-1 stretch.

The Fire will face a couple of familiar faces in former Chicago goalkeeper Jon Busch and defender Tim Ward. They have taken care of the defensive side, while Quakes forward Chris Wondolowski has almost single-handedly been San Jose's offense this season. He leads the team with 12 goals and has scored six times in his past seven matches.

Chicago designated player Nery Castillo is out again with a left quad injury. Castillo has only played in three matches and logged 124 minutes since he made his Aug. 8 debut against the New York Red Bulls.