San Jose has struggled to score this season, but scoring woes did not affect the potent Real Salt Lake offense Saturday night.
In a complete team effort, the Claret-and-Cobalt defeated the Earthquakes 3-0 in front of 19,064 fans at Rio Tinto Stadium. With one of the most prolific offenses in Major League Soccer over the last month, RSL is averaging 2.33 goals per game. Saturday night was no different as the home team quickly put three goals on the board in the first half and shut out San Jose. Head coach Jason Kreis said finishing every chance RSL had was the difference maker in the match.
“Tonight was the first time I remember that we finished just about all of our chances,” Kreis said. “The ones that should’ve been finished, we finished. That’s the difference between tonight and the games where we’ve struggled.”
Every unit played well for Real Salt Lake, from unselfish play by the forwards to spectacular saves by one of the best keepers in the game. Here is a breakdown of each position group and its contributions to the victory.
Starters: Robbie Findley and Joao Plata
Substitution: Olmes Garcia For Findley
With the speedy combination of Joao Plata and Robbie Findley starting up top for Real Salt Lake, the pair flustered the San Jose defense early. Finesse in the footwork of both starting forwards shined throughout the game and their unselfish play made a huge difference for RSL. Midfielder Ned Grabavoy scored when Plata made a hard run and left the ball for his open teammate.
“Plays like that for me are unbelievable because it's super unselfish,” Grabavoy said. “He could have tried to strike that with a guy on him, but to make a hard run to get some space and leave that ball — it's a great play by him, no question.”
Findley, the Man of the Match, also caused trouble for the Earthquakes all the way until he was subbed out in the 75th minute. In the first half he notched an assist off a cross which found Grabavoy wide open on the far side of the box. However, his shining moment in the game came in the 38th minute when Findley made a brilliant goal from just inside the '18. He looked somewhat surprised when the ball bounced to him in the box and without any pressure from San Jose, he drilled an unstoppable shot into the far netting.
“I think tonight was Robbie's best game of the season,” Kreis said. “People that don't understand that he has been going through injury issues probably would look at him and get frustrated, but the coaching staff doesn't. Tonight it looked like he was back at the top of his game.”
Olmes Garcia, who saw his first action on the pitch since playing a full 90 minutes against Montreal on May 11, replaced Findley in the 75th minute. However, with his team already ahead by three goals, he had limited time with the ball.
The forwards had it all Saturday night and it paid serious dividends for Real Salt Lake.
Man of the Match: Robbie Findley
Starters: Ned Grabavoy, Javier Morales, Kyle Beckerman and Khari Stephenson
Substitution: Luis Gil for Stephenson
The midfield started the game connecting on nearly every pass. The ball seldom made it past the RSL midfielders who broke up the majority of San Jose's passes. However, following halftime, the midfielders let up and the fluid play they had exhibited early on was sparse in the second half. Grabavoy credited this to changes San Jose made during halftime.
“They change formation, they step up and press us a little bit, and so the soccer wasn't necessarily there in the second half,” he said. “It was a little sloppy, but in saying that, I think we battled hard.”
Grabavoy and Javier Morales scored the first two goals to help Real Salt Lake take a commanding lead. In the 33rd minute Plata's fancy footwork earned him a shot which bounced off the hands of San Jose keeper Jon Busch. The rebound sailed straight to Morales who one-timed it into the far corner.
Despite playing 120 minutes just a few days ago during the Open Cup match, Morales and Beckerman fought through fatigue and used accurate passing to cut down on energy expenditure.
Khari Stephenson earned the call-up to start in Saturdays game after netting a beauty in the Real Salt Lake Open Cup 3-2 victory over Atlanta on Tuesday. This was Stephenson's first start since the RSL home opener against Colorado on March 16. He, like many of his fellow teammates, has been battling a stubborn injury and it took some patience to get in sync with the rest of the midfield against the Earthquakes.
“We're all on the same page, we can all read off of each other,” Stephenson said. “I think for the most part we were (connecting). A little rusty with me not starting a game with them for awhile, but as the game went along it got better.”
Although he is always looking to play well for the Claret-and-Cobalt, playing against his former team is always fun for the midfielder and he is pleased RSL has taken all three points in both matches this season.
“We went to San Jose and got three points the first game of the season — and then they came here and we got another three points,” Stephenson said. “So its definitely a great feeling to get the win and a little more special for me because it was against my old team.”
Overall it was a good night for Stephenson and the rest of the veteran midfield gang, which put in a solid performance.
Starters: Tony Beltran, Nat Borchers, Kwame Watson-Siriboe and Chris Wingert
Substitution: Abdoulie Mansally for Wingert
The ball didn't pass the RSL back four even once in the first half other than one of their own back passes to keeper Nick Rimando. The starting four provided a wall and even potent Earthquake forwards Steven Lenhart, Alan Gordon and Chris Wondolowski couldn't manage to get a shot off in the first 45 minutes.
With Chris Schuler still out of the lineup with a foot injury, the defenders played well with Kwame Watson-Siriboe taking his place. Watson-Siriboe had one of his best games of the season and provided a defensive wall that was difficult to beat.
The defenders had trouble in the second half, however, and were slightly outplayed by San Jose. The Earthquakes switched its offense at halftime and came out with more intensity. RSL defenders allowed San Jose to take seven shots in the second half, three of them on target. Chris Wingert said it is just the nature of being up 3-0 after one half.
“I think it's a little bit of the nature,” Wingert said. “I'm real happy with the 90 minutes from the guys. Maybe you get that fourth or that fifth and it really takes the wind out of their sails, but I thought we did a good job.”
Although San Jose has struggled to score this season, it still brings a very dangerous offense to the field that can go off at any moment. It was important for RSL defenders to keep San Jose out of scoring position and make sure the Earthquakes didn't break that spell at Rio Tinto Stadium.
“San Jose is the type of team that will capitalize on every opportunity that they get,” Wingert said. “They play a lot of balls in the box and you have to be extremely focused as a back four, I thought the guys did a good job of that tonight.”
Starter: Nick Rimando
Rimando pieced together another outstanding game which was his 107th career shutout. Rimando's leadership on the field Saturday, as it has in almost every match this season, helped the Claret-and-Cobalt to stay focused and keep San Jose from scoring.
“Those players (including Rimando) just bring a sense of calm, they make the players all around them feel better and more secure,” Kreis said.
Rimando was not tested at all in the first half, however San Jose threw everything it had at him after halftime. Rimando stayed tough, though, and saved all three of the Earthquakes shots on goal. His final save of the night came in the 73rd minute off a rocket by Steven Lenhart to which Rimando reacted quickly and pushed the ball wide of the net.
Each save was spectacular and he only allowed one dangerous rebound off a hard shot by San Jose midfielder Marvin Chavez. The rebound was collected by Steven Beitashour who chipped the ball high over the crossbar.