San Jose Earthquakes (11-11-8) shocked Real Salt Lake (14-10-6) with a 2-1 win at Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday. All three goals came in a frantic three-minute period in the first half with Steven Lenhart scoring a brace and Javier Morales on the score-sheet for the home side.
The night started promisingly for RSL as they looked to get back on track after a disappointing loss against Sounders last week. Kyle Beckerman and Joao plata both tried from long range early on following good home possession that RSL enjoy.
However, it was the visitors who broke the deadlock in the 18th minute after the Quakes’ midfield moved the ball quickly in a wide position to winger Cordell Cato. The winger’s cross was met by Steven Lenhart’s header in the box after his well-timed run escaped defender Nat Borchers.
RSL responded within a minute, after a Joao Plata corner found an unmarked Morales in the box. The Argentine had plenty of time to calmly slot the ball in the back of the net.
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San Jose only took a minute to expose RSL’s own defensive fragility from set-piece, after a Shea Salinas free-kick was headed in again by Steven Lenhart. The forward found sufficient space within the RSL defense and coach Jason Kreis would be disappointed that the Quakes’ target-man was so frequently left unchallenged aerially.
RSL’s woes could have been compounded in the 41st minute when San Jose skipper Chris Wondolowski tried to poach from a long throw. Luckily for the home team, his effort went over.
Wondolowski had another opportunity at the other side of the half, after a deep cross from full-back Jordan Steward found the Quakes’ forward in the box. The header was tipped over by keeper Nick Rimando.
RSL enjoyed about 70% possession in the game, but were a bit disjointed in the final third. The best chances in the second half came to Ned Gravaboy, whose 72nd minute shot on goal was blocked by the San Jose defense and to substitute Robbie Findley, whose left footer following a perfectly weighted Morales pass could only find the side-netting.
The Earthquakes had several threatening counter-attacks in the second half and could have been ahead in the 68th minute through midfielder Baca. His effort, however, was weak and never troubled Rimando.
Nonetheless, San Jose coach Mark Watson would be happy with a win, watching his side have the best of the chances and greater decisiveness in front of goal. The Earthquakes keep their playoff hopes alive as they welcome Chivas at home on September 29. The loss was a blow for Real Salt Lake as they would sense a missed opportunity to go top of the Western Conference and the Supporters’ Shield, particularly after Sounders dropped points in LA.