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Earthquakes lose to Real Salt Lake 3-3 (5-3) on penalty kicks

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Earthquakes goalkeeper Jon Busch reaches for the shot from Real Salt Lake's Will Johnson during the penalty kick shootout that determined the winner of Wednesday night's Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup play-in match. Photo: Joe Nuxoll -- centerlinesoccer.com

Center Line Soccer's complete coverage includes a photo gallery and post-game interviews with players and coaches from both teams.  

SANTA CLARA, Calif -- The San Jose Earthquakes dropped a tough match to Real Salt Lake Wednesday night in the opening game of qualifying for the 2010 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. With the score tied at 3 apiece after 90 minutes of regulation and 30 minutes of extra time, RSL prevailed in the penalty kick shoot-out 5-3 to advance through to the final round of qualifying.

Forward Arturo Alvarez missed the first penalty kick attempt for the Earthquakes, putting the team in a hole they couldn't recover from as Salt Lake shot a perfect 5 for 5 from the spot.

"Going to penalty kicks is like Russian Roulette," said Alvarez. "You never know what is going to happen. Unfortunately I missed my PK and it sucks." He later added, "I was planning on hitting it to the right of the goalkeeper, and I just missed the goal. To be honest, it was a bit embarrassing."

Quakes goalkeeper Jon Busch was the victim in this kind of situation for the second time in just under 6 months. His Chicago Fire squad lost the 2009 MLS Cup playoffs Eastern Conference championship game to Real Salt Lake in a similar heartbreaking way.

"They all took them well," said an obviously dejected Busch in the locker room after the game. "I knew from a couple times when this happened in Chicago where I wanted to be. But, they took them well."

The San Jose Earthquakes became the third team in a row to fall victim to the penalty kick shoot-out prowess of Real Salt Lake Wednesday night. After Chicago fell in the conference final, the Los Angeles Galaxy suffered the same fate in the MLS Cup Final. Coach Jason Kreis and his squad are certainly living a charmed existence right now, and will continue on in the oldest soccer tournament in the United States with a match against either FC Dallas or DC United. Advise to those teams -- take some time to practice your spot kicks.

The game started under ideal conditions at Buck Shaw Stadium, and the Earthquakes looked to press the action from the opening whistle. Featuring a forward tandem of Cornell Glen and Joey Gjertsen, the Quakes attempted to use their speed game against the Real Salt Lake defenders and keep them off-balance. Only some poor finishing passes in the first 2 minutes prevented them from testing goalkeeper Kyle Reynish.

However, the early attacking verve for San Jose would go for naught, and a familiar theme emerged for the home team -- costly defensive lapses. In the seventh minute, on what should have been a routine back pass between defenders Chris Leitch and Bobby Burling, RSL forward Robbie Findley was able to swoop in an intercept the poorly weighted ball in run in clear toward the Quakes goal. Goalkeeper Jon Busch valiantly attempted to block the path of Findley, but he could only watch the well placed shot nestle inside the far post.

Echoing previous slow starts in U.S. Open Cup matches, where last season the New York Red Bulls took a similar 1-0 lead within the opening minutes, the Earthquakes found themselves playing catch-up early in the match. In the 9th minute, Brandon McDonald joining the attack from his central defender position settled a poorly cleared Quakes corner and unleashed a low shot just wide of the goal. Keeping the pressure in the RSL end, Ramiro Corrales nearly found Glen racing into the penalty area, but he was unable to latch onto the pass.

On the play, Glen came up lame grabbing the back of his left leg. Later confirmed to be a left hamstring strain, Glen left the game and was replaced by rookie midfielder Steve Beitashour. Chris Wondolowski moved up to striker with Javier Robles sliding over to cover the center of midfield, and Beitashour slotted into the right wing.

Just the minutes later, Wondolowski and Beitashour played a nice give-and-go on the wing that gave the rookie plenty of room to feed a cross into the area. However, RSL captain Nat Borchers was there to deflect the ball over the byline for a corner kick. Unfortunately, the Quakes were not able to capitalize and the offensive threat fizzled out.

It was RSL's turn to press the Earthquakes defense, as the MLS Cup champions dominated possession over the next 10 minutes. First Chris Wingert found room to make a nice cross into the area that was cleared for a corner kick, then Findley broke through the Quakes defensive line and flashed a shot wide of the far post as McDonald converged on the speedy forward.

The momentum of the game changed in the 26th minute as Wingert left the field with an injury. Momentarily playing with a man advantage, the Quakes found more room in the midfield to carry possession into the RSL end.

In the 27th minute, Gjertsen took advantage of the midfield space and raced forward from the center line toward the RSL goal. Keeping defender Borchers on his heels, the Quakes forward was able to get him to bite to the inside, giving him space to create a shot from just inside the area. With the ‘keeper beat, the curling shot caromed off the far post, tantalizingly close to being the equalizer. The ball bounced back toward the center of the area, where an onrushing Justin Morrow was a split second late in his attempt to shoot on the rebound. Defender Rauwshan McKenzie just barely got his foot in the way to clear the ball from danger.

Real Salt Lake's penalty kick hero from last November's MLS Cup championship game replaced the injured Wingert, and the pace of the game returned to even. For a spell, the RSL midfielders had the Quakes chasing the ball from touchline to touchline, but to no real offensive effect. Their only dangerous chance came in the 42nd minute on a high ball into the area that saw goalkeeper Busch out jump forward Alvaro Saborio and make the catch save.

End to end action ensued as the first half entered stoppage time. As the last of the 4 added minutes ticked away, the Earthquakes earned a free kick 40 yards from goal, dead center on the field. With McDonald lined up behind the ball and the majority of his teammates amassed on the 18 yard line, he choose to blast a low shot trough the RSL defensive wall that skipped expectantly wide of the left post. The halftime whistle was thus sounded and the score remained 1-0 in favor of the visitors.

While entertaining at times, the first half was not the best display of soccer from the Earthquakes. Some sluggish minutes and an inability to create scoring opportunities mirrored the MLS regular season opener between these two teams. And in similar fashion, a defensive miscue saw RLS able to hold a lead over the home squad. Some frustration was clearly visible for the Quakes as they made their way to the locker room, as they must have known they needed to do much more to get back into this game.

The first quarter hour of the second half was better for San Jose, as they earned the majority of possession through the hard work of Robles and Ramon Sanchez in the center of the midfield. Gjertsen up top was especially effective at times, and he had a nice shot blocked out for a corner kick in the 47th minute.

In the 58th minute, the Quakes almost pulled level, as Gjertsen played provider in the attacking third. After stealing a poorly held ball by RSL near the byline, he raced toward goalkeeper Reynish before pulling the ball back toward the penalty spot. Just out of the reach of Wondolowski, the ball met Morrow just outside the area. His one-timer skipped just wide of the right post, nearly hitting Gjertsen on its way toward goal.

On a counterattack in the 60th minute, Real Salt Lak's Saborio raced into the San Jose end with defender Burling in close pursuit. Forced to put his arms around the striker to prevent his breaking away on goal, the referee called for the free kick and leniently displayed a yellow card to the Quakes defender.

With the ball placed a few yards outside the area, midfielder Nelson Gonzalez lined up a shot that beat Busch to his near post for the second RSL goal on the night. For the second time in as many games against Salt Lake, the Earthquakes were the victim of an expertly taken free kick.

Sensing that the team needed some fresh legs on the field, Head Coach Frank Yallop brought in Arturo Alvarez and debutant Edurado for Robles and Wondolowski after the RSL goal. Both players moved to the front line, and Gjertsten settled back into the midfield.

The inclusion of the two substitutes sparked the Earthquakes to life, and they carried the bulk of possession over the next five minutes. Eduardo flashed some of his fine footwork and post-up ability in the 66th minute when he collected a pass at the center line and turned his defenders before racing toward goal. He laid a perfect pass off to Alvarez on the right wing that gave him plenty of room to return a leading cross to Gjertsen at the far post. His powerful shot was poorly placed right at the ‘keeper, and the opportunity went wanting.

In the 68th minute, Leitch was given the chance to amend for his first half defensive gaffe when he collected the ball on the right wing after a poor clearance from the RSL defense. Taking the ball into the area with intent, and shaking off two defenders in the process, Leitch snuck a shot off the far post and into the back of the net to finally break the Buck Shaw scoring seal for 2010. Known more for his crossing ability, the goal was a very nice individual effort.

"Rarely will you see me dribble past a couple of guys, cut inside and then curl one with my left peg back stick," exclaimed Leitch after the game. "But that still doesn't make up for the mistake in the first half, though it helps minimize it a bit."

The highly anticipated debut of Eduardo was preemptively cut short when just twelve minutes after entering the game he pulled up lame with a mild leg injury. Not wanting to risk a lengthy set-back for the Quakes biggest off-season signing, Yallop used his last available substitution on the night and replaced the Brazilian with the newest Earthquakes signing Omar Jasseh in the 74th minute.

Jasseh, at just 17-years old, became the youngest player in Earthquakes history to play in a competitive match, besting teammate Arturo Alvarez who held that distinction since his introduction to MLS back in his rookie season of 2003.

In the 76th minute, Leitch was back to his defending ways as he expertly stood up Findley after RSL counterattacked with a 3 on 2 advantage. Stewarding the ball to safety, then making a clearance up the line, the potential danger was extinguished.

A minute late, Findley again tried to find a third goal for the visitors, as he met a good cross into the area with just the goalkeeper to beat. However, his header from inside 10 yards went wide of the goal and the threat was over.

Alvarez was playing very well to this point in the game, even though as was divulged after the game, he was playing with a slight hamstring strain. He still had the energy to contribute to a growingly confident Quakes offense, even if his speed was somewhat curtailed.

In the 81st minute, Corrales steals the ball near midfield and presses forward. He gets it to Morrow along the left sideline before his cross toward Alvarez is cleared out for a corner kick. Keeping the pressure on the RSL defense, Morrow and Gjertsen worked tirelessly to maintain possession in the attacking third. In the 84th minute, Alvarez received a pass on the left sideline and dribbled toward the corner flag. Turning around the ball with his right foot, he took it past two defenders and into the area. Unfortunately, Alvarez hesitated with the ball, and turned it over for a weak defensive clearance. Corrales collected the ball and unleashed a high shot over the goal and out for a goal kick. Good stuff by the Earthquakes, but RSL was definitely bunkering down in an attempt to see this game off.

With the match drawing to a close, the Earthquakes continued to apply heavy pressure in search of the equalizer. In the 87th minute, Alvarez again found himself on the left side of the area after shielding off a defender on a throw-in. Turing toward goal, Alvarez pulled a pass back for Jasseh that just eluded the dynamic midfielder as a defender cleared him away from the ball.

A minute later, the Earthquakes efforts were rewarded. With Corrales holding the ball up on the left side, he found Alvarez behind the defense. Taking the pass and shaking off a defender, Alvarez shot low to the far post to knot the score at 2-2.

A flurry of activity from Real Salt Lake during three minutes of stoppage time nearly saw a late game winner. However, the Quakes defenders were up to the challenge, including a crucial clearance of a last gasp free kick, and the game remained tied after regulation.

In the U.S. Open Cup, two 15 minute extra periods are used to settle games tied after 90 minutes. After a quick break to catch their collective breath, the two teams were back in action for some Wednesday night bonus soccer.

The first extra time session was all Earthquakes, as Gjertsen and Jasseh gave the RSL defenders fits in the attacking third. In the 101st minute, Gjertsen took a nice pass from Alvarez to the top of the area, but saw he shot cleared by the onrushing goalkeeper. Two minutes later, perhaps sensing a weakness in the RSL center of defense, a similar run this time by Morrow resulted in a 1 v. 1 opportunity.

"I had an opportunity in the second half that I put wide and was thinking I didn't want to miss another," explained Morrow. "This time I made sure to force the keeper to make a save and luckily I tucked it under his arm."

With Kyle Beckerman breathing down his neck, Morrow indeed converted the tough shot past the converging ‘keeper to put San Jose ahead for the first time in the match. The rookie out of Notre Dame, making his first competitive start for Quakes, looked too exhausted to really celebrate the goal, but some of that temperament was courtesy of the hard tackle he suffered from Beckerman on the shot. For his efforts, the RSL talisman midfielder earned a yellow card.

The second extra time period started in the favor of San Jose, and they looked the more dangerous team on offense. However, RSL soon turned the game around, as the Earthquakes failed to find a way to double their lead. Beckerman took an uncontested shot 15 yards from goal in the 110th minute that Busch did well to save. A subsequent corner kick needed expert defending from McDonald to be cleared from the area.

Picking up the McDonald clearance, Jasseh found lots of space in front of him. Passing off to Alvarez near midfield, Jasseh sprinted toward the top of the area to receive the return pass. With just the goalkeeper to beat, the youngster could not find a gap and the ball was nicely saved. On the restart, Jasseh again bore down on goal, and this time chose to lay the ball off for Gjertsen. The ball was teasingly within reach, but was tracked down by the defense.

Still not finding the goal that would ice the match, San Jose tried instead to carry possession into the RSL and run some time off the clock. This worked for a spell, but not all the way to the final whistle. With Salt Lake sending players forward in search of a tying goal, the Earthquakes fell short in their endeavor to see the game off.

The comeback goal for RSL came courtesy of a hustle play from Fabian Espindola in the 117th minute. Following an attempted clearance from Corrales deep in the left corner, the RSL midfielder, collected the ball and fed Robbie Russell with a pass toward to byline. Drawing defenders to his location just to the right of goal, Russell lofted a perfectly floated cross into the box where the two tall central defenders for RSL waited patiently for the ball to arrive. Borchers rose up to meet the ball and put it just above the reach of Busch, who managed to tip it off the bottom of the crossbar before it settled in to the goal.

With regulation and extra time completed, the game would be decided on penalty kicks. For San Jose, this was a new experience, but for RSL this marked familiar territory. Marking the third straight elimination game featuring a shootout finish for Salt Lake, they had to like their chances.

Collecting down at the north end of Buck Shaw Stadium, with the supporters chanting and drumming away, the spot kick contest began. Real Salt Lake would go first with San Jose going second. The synopsis was as follows:

Johnson -- low to right, keeper jumped that way but shot was ahead of him. 1-0
Alvarez -- with left foot he pulled it well wide of the right side post, very poorly taken. 1-0
Beckerman -- low and right ahead of the diving Busch 2-0
Gjertsen -- low right with keeper going left 2-1
Findley -- low right with keeper going left 3-1
McDonald -- center left with keeper diving to the right 3-2
Russell -- low left with keeper diving to the right 4-2
Sanchez -- snuck in at the left post after the keeper guessed correctly and got a hand on it. 4-3
Williams -- low left while Busch stayed tight on the line. 5-3

With a mixture of celebration and relief, the Real Salt Lake players converged on Williams near midfield and welcomed an end to an entertaining match. For the Earthquakes it was a good effort, especially given that they stood 2-0 down midway through the second half. However, an inability to finish off the game in the second extra time will haunt them. Hopefully, they can correct that mistake as the team gets back to the MLS regular season this Saturday against the New England Revolution.

• • •

San Jose Earthquakes vs. Real Salt Lake
April 14, 2010 - Buck Shaw Stadium
Attendance: 2,718

Scoring Summary: RSL -- Robbie Findley (unassisted) 7; RSL -- Nelson Gonzalez (unassisted) 60; SJ -- Chris Leitch (unassisted) 68; SJ -- Arturo Alvarez (Ramiro Corrales) 88; SJ -- Justin Morrow (Arturo Alvarez) 103; RSL -- Nat Borchers (Robbie Russell) 118.

Misconduct Summary:
RSL -- Will Johnson (caution) 8; SJ -- Steven Beitashour (caution) 51; RSL -- Kyle Beckerman (caution) 89; SJ -- Bobby Burling (caution) 109.

San Jose Earthquakes -- Jon Busch, Chris Leitch, Bobby Burling, Brandon McDonald, Ramiro Corrales, Javier Robles (Arturo Alvarez 60), Ramon Sanchez, Chris Wondolowski (Eduardo 61) (Omar Jasseh 74), Justin Morrow, Cornell Glen (Steven Beitashour 13), Joey Gjertsen.

Statistics: Shots: 11; Shots on Goal: 5; Fouls: 16; Offsides: 1; Corners: 11.

Real Salt Lake -- Kyle Reynish, Tony Beltran, Nat Borchers, Raushawn McKenzie, Chris Wingert (Robbie Russell 31), Will Johnson, Collen Warner (Kyle Beckerman 69), Jean Alexandre, Nelson Gonzalez (Andy Williams 61), Robbie Findley, Alvaro Saborio (Fabian Espindola 80).

Statistics: Shots: 10; Shots on Goal: 4; Fouls: 19; Offsides: 3; Corners: 6.