SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Real Salt Lake prides itself on playing an attractive brand of soccer, but that simply wasn't possible on Saturday night.
With a steady rain all game, wind gusts in the 30s and a slippery surface that RSL's players tip-toed around most of the night, there was nothing pretty about the its MLS regular season opener at San Jose.
That was just fine with RSL, it got the result it coveted.
Despite dealing with footing issues all game, Real Salt Lake gutted out a 1-0 victory over the Earthquakes in miserable conditions at Buck Shaw Stadium — its second straight season-opening victory in Northern California.
"It was big. We wanted to get off to a good MLS start," said RSL captain Kyle Beckerman who scored the game's lone goal in the 63rd minute.
For a club that aspires to win the MLS Supporters' Shield this year, it was exactly the type of result Real Salt Lake needed to start the 2011 campaign, particularly after winning such a big Champions League on Tuesday against Saprissa.
"When you have a huge game like our Champions League game and then you follow it up with a game like this, usually there's a let down but I think we understood the situation," said RSL defender Nat Borchers, whose team is unbeaten in eight straight road games dating back to last year. "This is a huge three points for us. I think this is going to pay dividends for us later down the line."
RSL coach Jason Kreis admits he was concerned about a let down, and even though there were some nervous moments early on his players settled down as the match wore on.
For long stretches, however, it looked like a scoreless draw seemed like an inevitability baring a major slip by a defender.
Beckerman changed all that in the 63rd minute with a 25-yard finish at the top of the box past lunging San Jose keeper Jon Busch.
The goal was the result of a short corner give-and-go between Tony Beltran and Javier Morales, with Morales supplying the final pass to Beckerman.
"I was fairly wide open. Javy found me, he was able to turn his man. Then I just tried to get a good strike on goal and then it went in," said Beckerman.
A minute earlier Busch did very well to deny former Quake Ned Grabavoy on a breakaway, but he couldn't quite get his finger tips on Beckerman's strike.
In the build up to Saturday's match, RSL's players seemed confident in getting a result, but knew the Quakes would be hungry to avenge last year's 3-0 season opening loss to Salt Lake.
San Jose put up quite a fight to the finish, and Nick Rimando came up huge on numerous occasions to keep the clean sheet. He came up with a pair of dazzling saves in the 71st minute on shots by Chris Wondolowski and then Khari Stephenson. A few minutes later he denied midfielder Sam Cronin's long-range effort.
"Sometimes you're just trying to get a piece of the ball. Today was my day, luck was on my side. I was able to get a piece of these balls," said Rimando, who said the MLS balls swerve and bend around much more than the Champions League balls.
Rimando finished the game with 10 saves as Real Salt Lake improved to 2-2-3 in season openers in franchise history.
"I think he won the three points for us," said Kreis, who said it was a war of attrition in the final 20 minutes as San Jose pushed forward for an equalizer with a strong wind at its back.
Saturday's match was eerily similar to the franchise opener in New York in 2005, except it wasn't nearly as windy or rainy — otherwise the thousands of fans on hand would've never left their homes.2 comments on this story
San Jose enjoyed the better of the play throughout the first half, and could've easily put one or two away. MLS Golden Boot winner Wondolowski fired a shot right at Rimando in the second minute, but it was his point-blank header in the 21st minute that he's no doubt kicking himself about.
Standing five yards from goal Wondolowski failed to redirect a Chris Leitch cross on goal, with the ball grazing harmlessly off his forehead. RSL defender Chris Schuler appeared to duck out of the way of the cross, perhaps assuming Rimando was coming off his line to snag it.
The shots were even at 5-5 in the first half, but Real Salt Lake's only decent chance was a long-range effort by Beckerman that nearly grazed the crossbar.