SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Real Salt Lake's chance to regain the points lead Saturday in Major League Soccer seemed a moot point once RSL was forced to compensate for the absence of three starters, including two defenders.
Chris Wondolowski scored three goals as the San Jose Earthquakes defeated RSL 5-0 and maintained the MLS points lead. The loss was RSL's second-worst ever.
The wheels coming off for Real Salt Lake included the ejection of team captain Kyle Beckerman in the midst of a second-half melee.
Beckerman said that was the turning point. It was 1-0 then. "The red card was the reason we lost that big. We don't mind losing, but we want to lose by the other team beating us."
But RSL coach Jason Kreis was already distraught by then. "It was a pretty lackluster effort for us," Kreis said. "A few guys slept-walked into that game."
Wondolowski, who extended his MLS goal-scoring lead to 17, put the Earthquakes (12-4-4, 40 points) ahead for good in the 18th minute by scoring from five feet off a corner kick redirected by Justin Morrow. Another scramble after a corner kick resulted in San Jose's second goal, in the 63rd minute. Wondolowski made it 3-0 in the 73rd minute. Simon Dawkins made it 4-0 in the 79th minute and it went to 5-0 in the 80th minute when Wondolowski completed his hat trick.
It was San Jose's third win in three tries over Real Salt Lake (11-7-3, 36 points), which otherwise has the best record in MLS this season and felt it outplayed San Jose in the earlier losses.
But the visitors never seriously challenged Saturday, shorthanded as they were.
RSL was compensating for the absences of injured defenders Ned Borchers and Tony Beltran and midfielder Ned Grabavoy. Recently acquired Kenny Mansally and Kwame Watson-Siriboe replaced the two defenders in the starting lineup, and Luis Gill started in place of Grabavoy.
San Jose was playing without striker Steven Lenhart, who shares much of the scoring load with Wondolowski and Alan Gordon. Lenhart has been exhibiting concussion-like symptoms. But Real Salt Lake's personnel problems proved much more crucial.
The Earthquakes thoroughly dominated the first 20 minutes and took a 1-0 lead in the 18th minute as Wondolowski scored at nearly point-blank range.
Real Salt Lake had trouble early on mounting a sustained attack with its more deliberate approach.
RSL might not have been overcompensating for its missing defenders, but Watson-Siriboe kept drawing warnings for infractions and finally drew a yellow card in the 16th minute, at which point a shot by Fabian Espindola in the 14th minute had been the visitors' only threat.
Jamison Olave drew a yellow card in the 44th minute after a run-in with Gordon.
There wasn't much for Real Salt Lake to draw on for inspiration at the break.
The second half went awry for RSL in the 50th minute when Watson-Siriboe waylaid Gordon again in San Jose's end but wasn't issued a second yellow card.
Real Salt Lake was finally mounting some offense but still couldn't sustain anything.
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Tempers finally overflowed in the 55th minute when the Quakes knocked down RSL midfielder Javier Morales, sparking retaliation that resulted in Beckerman's drawing the red card. Two Quakes drew yellow cards, but again RSL seemed to get the worst of the deal.
"Javier just got crushed," Beckerman said. "I just came in hard. They made a big deal out of it."
At 62:43, RSL's game-long inability to regain the ball after San Jose corner kicks led to a goal by Gordon, assisted by Victor Bernardez and Marvin Chavez.
That made it 2-0 and pretty much decided the issue.