SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The new era of Real Salt Lake began Sunday night with a win that felt familiar even if some of the faces weren't.
Playing its 2013 opener and first league game since trading three starters in an offseason cost-cutting move, RSL beat defending Western Conference champion San Jose, 2-0, with a pair of goals from Alvaro Saborio. The team's top scorer last year with 17 struck twice in the second half as RSL took some revenge on the team that beat it three times in league play last year and posted the best regular-season record.
"I don't know how you walk away from that with anything but pleasure," said head coach Jason Kreis. "I'm really, really proud of our guys' effort tonight. That was really my main focus, was to see if we could out-compete a team that knows known to be one of the best competitors in the league."
Saborio ran onto a lofted pass from offseason acquisition and second-half substitute Joao Plata to score in the 71st minute, and iced the win 14 minutes later by cashing in a great feed from captain Kyle Beckerman. Goalie Nick Rimando earned his 100th career shutout, second-best in league history, as RSL blanked the league's highest-scoring team in 2012 and overcame spells of play during which it labored to keep possession.
"(San Jose) came out with a lot of energy and adrenalin, and we knew it was going to be one of those games, so it was good we adjusted," said Beckerman, who marshaled a gritty effort in central midfield. "Sometimes teams close off the angles and make it really tight for us and we have to adjust.
"We just started to play a little bit of field position, and said, 'Let's get it up there, and then we'll play.'"
The insertion of winger Joao Plata, acquired during the winter in a trade from Toronto, helped RSL get the ball upfield. He'd been on the field for only about six minutes when he surprised the 'Quakes defense by chipping a ball from the midfield line that Saborio outran two defenders to bang into the net.
"He came on the field and made a terrific pass for Sabo to score the goal," said Kreis. "He did a lot of things for us and contributed in some defensive ways as well. We're really pleased with his addition."
The change from Robbie Findley's straight-head speed to Plata's trickery clearly flustered San Jose, which characteristically failed to really test Rimando.
San Jose's Chris Wondolowski tied the league record of 27 goals last season yet despite breaking free on numerous occasions failed to convert. Rimando tipped a deflected Wondolowski shot onto the crossbar during a first-half melee to keep the game scoreless, yet only needed to make one other save as most of San Jose's 14 shots missed the target.
"I didn't see it all," said Rimando of his reflex stop in the 15th minute. "There were like three dudes in front of me, and just reacted to it and was lucky enough to get like a fingertip to it and push it against the post and yeah, preserve the shutout."
The absences of forward Fabian Espindola, midfielder Will Johnson, and defender Jamison Olave were evident in the first half as RSL scrapped to equal the Earthquakes, which led MLS last year by scoring 72 goals, and posted the best regular-season record of 19-6-9. Yet RSL also took the field without Nat Borchers, Chris Wingert, Javier Morales, and Ned Grabavoy, all starters who were ruled out because of injuries or personal reasons.
A central defensive pairing of Chris Schuler and Kwame Watson-Siriboe grew in confidence during the match, and their ability to repel numerous high passes played into the goalmouth helped frustrate the Quakes. They are competing for the starting spot previously held by Olave alongside Borchers, but were paired often during the preseason and managed to get through the match unscored upon.
"It's going to take a little bit more time to jell," said Rimando, "but tonight, if they continue to play like that, I'll be happy. When you're sound in the back and you get your chances and you put them away, I think that's the goal here."
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