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Fire-Earthquakes Preview

By MATT BEARDMORE

STATS Writer

(AP) -- The San Jose Earthquakes ended the longest winless streak in team history the last time the Chicago Fire were in town.

San Jose is in a much better position going into the clubs' only meeting of 2012.

The Earthquakes lead MLS and will be looking to extend their Buck Shaw Stadium point streak to 13 when they face the offensively challenged Fire on Saturday night.

Sparked by a goal and an assist from Chris Wondolowski, the Earthquakes snapped an 0-6-7 skid with a 2-0 victory over Chicago on Sept. 10.

That started San Jose's current 9-0-3 run at Buck Shaw Stadium. The Earthquakes (13-4-5) were the home team March 17 in a 1-0 loss to Houston at San Francisco's AT&T Park.

Back from the All-Star break - Wondolowski scored in MLS' 3-2 win over Chelsea on Wednesday - San Jose begins a stretch of four of five at home.

"It all starts with Chicago on Saturday. That's the first step," All-Star defender Justin Morrow told the Earthquakes' official website. "We're heading into the fourth part of the season and that's the most critical time. We really have to buckle down and get some wins."

Having Wondolowski on their side gives the Earthquakes a major advantage in their push for the Supporters' Shield. The forward has a league-best 17 goals - two shy of his career high - and has 12 games remaining to make a run at the league record of 27 set by Tampa Bay's Roy Lassiter in 1996.

"He always finds ways to put the ball in the back of the net. He finds good spots to be in and he's done that his whole career," Fire defender Dan Gargan told the team's official website. "... He finds gaps, he floats around and he's one of those guys that doesn't take a million touches on the ball but in that final third he's dangerous."

So is striker Alan Gordon, who has nine goals after scoring in San Jose's last three games and recording the equalizer in a 2-1 loss at Vancouver on Sunday. He'll likely make a sixth consecutive start in place of Steven Lenhart, who is expected to be available after missing four weeks with concussion symptoms.

While the Earthquakes lead MLS with 43 goals, the Fire (9-7-4) are looking for an offensive boost. They've been shut out in three of their last four games and have two goals in the past five, giving them 22 on the season.

Making matters worse, Chicago will be without All-Star midfielder Marco Pappa, who's tied with Dominic Oduro with a team-high five goals, due to yellow-card accumulation. Dutch striker Sherjill MacDonald could make his Fire debut Saturday after signing as a designated player earlier this week.

"Obviously I've seen the team play and been with them already," McDonald said. "With my type of playing style I hope to create more chances, score a few goals and give assists. Looking at the last few games, I think the team has done well defensively, if we can score more goals we'll be in good shape."

Earthquakes All-Star goalkeeper Jon Busch is 1-1-1 against Chicago since being waived by the Fire in 2010 following three seasons. He beat them with five saves in the September 2011 matchup.

San Jose will be without All-Star defender Steven Beitashour due to a yellow-card suspension. Jed Zayner is expected to start in his spot and make his Earthquakes debut.

Updated July 27, 2012

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