Quakes Earn Ugly Point in Salt Lake
Good thing they don't give out style points in MLS.
Friday night the San Jose Earthquakes opened up their brutal road trip with a valuable point by earning an ugly but lively draw away to Real Salt Lake, 1-1. The visitors went ahead through a bizarre Chris Wondolowski goal that explored the limits of the offsides rule and their advantage was wiped out when Victor Bernárdez misplayed a back pass into his own net with a finish that recalled Julian Green's against Belgium in the World Cup.
Neither team wasted any time racking up what would become 37 total called fouls in the match, with RSL midfielder Kyle Beckerman booked less than 60 seconds into the proceedings for pulling back Matias Pérez-García on the counter. The early going was all Quakes, on the front foot in possession and playing crosses into dangerous areas. Sanna Nyassi danced around his man in the 11th and launched a fine long-distance effort to put the first shot across Nick Rimando's bow. Minutes later, Nyassi received a telling through-ball from Marvell Wynne and stuck a pinpoint cross on Wondo's head that couldn't quite find an angle on goal.
The wave of pressure crested over in the 19th minute when Shea Salinas beat Luke Mulholland and twice attempted to get a shot past a wall of blocks, only to be rejected both times. The second, however, bounced off Jámison Olave and Beckerman before it fell to the feet of a deeply-offsides Wondolowski for a simple, clinical finish. The stunned crowd waited for a raised flag from the assistant referee, and began hissing when it never came; Real Salt Lake coach Jeff Cassar was apoplectic. Apparently, veteran referee Sorin Stoica ruled the deflections as intentionally played balls by the defense and allowed the goal to stand. The Quakes celebrated their good fortune and favorable scoreline and Rio Tinto Stadium turned into an angry cauldron, provoked anew at every further indignity.
The ill will continued as the fouls racked up and the play found little rhythm. Innocent was booked for an unclear infraction (possibly dissent) in the 21st, while Beckerman was not in the 29th despite winding up and lashing Perez-Garcia's leg from behind with no chance at the ball. The no-call played a major role in the match as Beckerman was allowed to stay on the pitch and continue his influential role in his side. Kenny Mansally later went in high on Fatai Alashe and left him in a heap. Jordan Allen found his name in the book for a pull-back of his own on Cordell Cato on the counter.
Despite the constant interruption of flow, Dominic Kinnear's tactics and personnel selection seemed well-suited to the matchup. Wondolowski was again named in a nominal midfield role but did a much better job this time pushing up the pitch and getting on the ball in goalscoring positions. The other three attacking midfielders (Nyassi, Salinas, and Perez-Garcia) did a decent job playing as a collective, finding more space for their individual efforts, and looking quite a bit improved as a unit. Alashe and the back line did an excellent job forming a shield around their box and were assured defending set pieces, with the fullbacks convincingly making up for their horror show two weeks ago. The set pieces were characteristically strong on the other end too: MPG delivered a real beauty in the 49th minute that soared through dangerous areas onto the feet of a wide-open Wondo who dwelt on it for just a second too long before the angle tightened and Mansally managed to block the shot behind. Innocent looked lively up top, stretching the defensive line, but he went off in favor of Adam Jahn in the 56th with what appeared to be a minor knock.
Eventually RSL started to find its way into the match in the second half, still looking vulnerable at the back but starting to push the ball farther forward. Three minutes before the self-inflicted equalizer, Bernárdez foreshadowed the madness to come when he scuffed a clearance and Beckerman drove the loose ball low and just wide of the post. Then, in the 71st, the Honduran's shin once again misplayed a ball, this time on a back pass, dipping gracefully over an onrushing Bingham and into his own empty net. Somewhere between a mis-hit and a miscommunication, Bernárdez's own goal was the only time a player for either team put a shot on target towards the Earthquake's goal, a lukewarm consolation for the center-back.
Despite the momentum, RSL wasn't able to break their over-350-minute-long drought of scoring a goal of their own. They had their chances down the stretch as they managed to push the ball into the box for the first time, but a Devin Sandoval bicycle kick, a 84th minute surge forward, and a slick 1-2 that caught Wynne out all petered out tamely. It was San Jose, in fact, that came closest to pulling out a winner when substitute J.J. Koval powered a header just wide off of a corner in the fourth minute of stoppage time, which was the last real chance of the game.
Tuesday night, the Quakes road show travels to Houston for Kinnear's first reunion with his old club and a rekindling of the "Franchise that left town" rivalry. The Dynamo are coming off a 4-1 humiliation and the Quakes will be looking to assume a less precarious position in the Western Conference table.