Quakes Can't Quite Deliver in Prime Time Against Real Salt Lake
Playing on national TV in front of sellout Avaya stadium for the second time in as many weeks, the San Jose Earthquakes worked hard but failed to shine in the spotlight's glare and lost to a rugged Real Salt Lake, 1-0.
RSL Designated Player Javier Morales proved the difference in a game that was a little short on quality with an absolutely sublime volley in the 44th minute off the underside of the bar. That goal, plus gritty defending, was all the visitors needed to move beyond the Quakes in the early western conference standings and begin to find their form after a slow start to the season.
The Quakes started the game more or less where they left off in New England, working out of a 4-1-4-1 set, with the only change Fatai Alashe on for Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi. Chris Wondolowski was announced as a midfielder, playing through the center, with Adam Jahn leading the line and Cordell Cato remaining at right back in place of the injured Marvell Wynne. Shackling Alashe deep, starting Sanna Nyassi over Shea Salinas, and going with Jahn instead of a second true pivot midfielder were all somewhat unexpected but he early passages of play rewarded the approach, with the home side winning a few decent set pieces and starting on the front foot.
The first in a series of credible penalty shouts for the Quakes was denied in the 8th minute from a Jamison Olave hand ball. After about 15 minutes of uneventful Earthquake dominance, RSL began to grow into the game as midfielders Luke Mulholland, Javier Morales, and Kyle Beckerman increasingly dictated the pace and shape of play.
The first real chance of the game materialized in the 18th minute, when Alvaro Saborio was through on goal and Goodson hacked him down while only barely managing to get the ball first. Any penalty appeal was waived away by referee Armando Villareal but the prospect had Quakes fans justifiably nervous. In the 29th minute, when Alashe gave away possession cheaply, Olmes Garcia took off to latch onto the ensuing through ball, and David Bingham sprinted off his line to snuff it out in the nick of time. A 31st minute set piece from point blank range was nodded away by Goodson, and a minute later Beckerman put Morales into space who was only just blocked by Bernardez.
In the 34th minute, Shaun Francis and Jordan Allen violently knocked heads going for the same ball. Francis was the worse for the wear, coming off with an apparent head injury, that by all accounts after the game seemed serious. In his place came JJ Koval at right back, shifting Cato over to the left in the Quakes increasingly makeshift back line. Koval looked the part of a man who had hardly warmed up, getting fleeced by Olmes Garcia twice within just a few minutes of coming on. Mulholland would take his own knock to the head a few minutes later when Innocent Emeghara went into an aerial challenge leading with his elbow and was deservedly booked. Regardless of the quality of the officiating decisions, the temperature of the game had raised quite a bit by this point and young Fatai Alashe played the role of holding his veterans back from ever more virulent confrontations with the referee.
It was from that very free kick that Morales sprung his own opportunity, driving the set piece against the wall. The deflection fell right back towards him, and he hit the volley as true as you'll ever see, sending a soaring wunderstrike off the underside of the bar, wrongfooting a hapless David Bingham who had reacted to the direction of the original strike.
San Jose managed a few intrepid moments going forward before the half went out, culminating in a Koval header off of a corner, only to be stonewalled at the goal line. Shortly after the break, Koval again worked a little magic, skillfully settling a ball and volleying it just over the bar in the 47th. His former Stanford teammate Jahn began to force his way into the game too by dominating the air and providing an omnipresent outlet for the midfield five. After Nyassi burst through the right wing and cut back a cross, he nearly redirected it on goal with a cheeky right footed backheel. In the 54th minute, Matias Perez-Garcia put in a through ball and Jahn slipped his marker for a clean pair of heels and a clear look at goal but he couldn't turn it in from the tight angle and scuffed it wide.
The Earthquakes rally was nearly rewarded in the 58th minute when it appeared that Chris Schuler handled a deflected ball in the area, but referee Villareal left the crowd (and Earthquakes players) stunned when he waved play on. Shortly thereafter, Wondo was booked for dissent after his game-long chirping finally boiled past Villareal's tolerance point.
Perez-Garica repeatedly attempted to dribble his way through the visitor's rugged wall and managed to draw and take some decent set pieces, but no scoring chances would follow. The Quakes also had a few counter-attacking opportunities that were broken up by the timely interventions of the RSL back line (and on one occasion, midfielder Javier Morales while seated on the ground). Dominic Kinnear tried to stoke the attacking flames in the 64th minute, putting on Shea Salinas in place of Sanna Nyassi, a move that many expected in the starting lineup but one ultimately that didn't do much to alter the shape of the game.
Koval was fleeced yet again by Olmes Garcia in the 69th, who crossed it dangerously but found none of his attackers. Instead, Clarence Goodson cut it out and inadvertently directed it towards his own goal, which Bernardez barely cleared off the line under pressure from Devon Sandoval that left him roughed up. That was about as vulnerable as the central backs would look their entire time on the pitch together, even as pressure continued to mount. Fatai Alashe chipped in with a few more spectacular, athletic hook slides that helped reign in oncoming attackers, although his last was adjudged a booking despite a clean take of the ball.
With just 10 minutes to play, Kinnear put on Leandro Barrera for Victor Bernardez, officially ending the press box's ability to interpret what formation we were working out of. My best guess was a back three of Koval, Alashe, and Goodson, with Jahn up top and the rest of the midfielders roaming about their natural positions and then some. Although plenty of attack was on the pitch, no reliable passing lanes or partnerships seemed to grow out of it. At the death, Perez-Garcia won and took one final set piece that bobbled around the box and out towards Innocent. Emeghara flicked it with an overhead kick back in the box to Alashe, who twirled and volleyed just barely above the bar, coming up short of any points on an afternoon they probably deserved some.
San Jose, now 2-3-0 and 5th place in the West, takes on the Vancouver Whitecaps next Saturday at home, looking to reverse the recent losing trend.