SAN JOSE, Calif. -- A sold-out Avaya Stadium crowd of 18,000 was treated to a hard-fought match between the San Jose Earthquakes and Real Salt Lake on Easter Sunday, but it was the visitors that collected all the points on offer in a well-earned 1-0 victory.
Javier Morales opened the scoring for Real Salt Lake with a follow up on his own missed free kick just before halftime. The Earthquakes poured on the pressure following the goal, but they were unable to come up with an equalizer, and dropped their third game of the season, the first loss at Avaya Stadium.
"We played well enough to get something out of this game," said defender Clarence Goodson. "They score a goal off of a direct set piece, and not from the run of play. Especially in the second half, we were pushing the game. We are dynamic at times, but we need to find a way to do that a little bit more over the course of 90 minutes and put people on their heels, especially here at home."
The Earthquakes (2-3-0) had more possession than Real Salt Lake (2-0-2) on the day, earning the ball 52.4% versus the visitor's 47.6%. However, it was not always possession that led to scoring opportunities, something that star forward Chris Wondolowski acknowledged after the game.
"They did a great job defensively," said Wondolowski. "They were very hard to break down. At times we were a bit too individualistic and they are very good defenders. You have to really move and pass the ball to break them down and we didn't do a good enough job of that."
The surprise start of Adam Jahn at center forward and the replacement of injured Marvell Wynne with Cordell Cato marked the two biggest changes employed by head coach Dominic Kinnear. For Jahn, it was a not the result he had hoped to earn on a day the Earthquakes had 12 attempts on goal to RSL's 10.
"That's the way the game goes sometimes,' said Jahn. "I thought we did enough to get a point. We were looking to break through, but they did a good job of keeping us out."
Returning U-23 men's national team holding midfielder Fatai Alashe also earned the start for the Quakes, as both JJ Koval and Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi moved to the bench in favor of the 21-year-old rookie.
"We created a good amount of opportunities today,' said Alashe. "As a team we did pretty well and controlled the game. Obviously, we were unlucky to give up a goal, but created enough chances. It was about finishing them. It was an unlucky result, but we'll keep working and hopefully come out sharper next week."
Kinnear was a little less forgiving of the result, disappointed that his team did enough to earn points but came up short for the second straight week.
"We lost," said Kinnear in his post game press conference. "In the end, the result is the most important thing. When you walk off the field losing 1-0, it is not a thrilling day. It's a bit of a downer."
Neither team took control of the game early, as play bogged down in the midfield for much of the opening half. A breakaway by Alvaro Saborio in the 18th minute allowed the RSL attacker to enter the Earthquakes area, but defenders Clarence Goodson and Victor Bernardez bullied the Costa Rican off the ball. The visitors clamored for a penalty kick, but referee Armando Villarreal was unconvinced.
A scary moment occurred in the 34th minute when Shaun Francis clashed with RSL midfielder Jordan Allen on an aerial challenge and collapsed to the ground. After an extensive evaluation, it was determined that Francis would need to leave the game, and he made way for JJ Koval. The substitution forced Kinnear to move Koval to right back and Cato to left back.
Another head injury scare late in the half ultimately led to the first goal of the game. Challenging on a loose ball at the top of the Quakes area, Innocent was guilty of elbowing Luke Mulholland in the forehead and was immediately called for a foul. Morales lined up a free kick, but sent it right into the wall. Unfortunately for the Earthquakes, the ball teed up nicely for Morales, and he fired his follow up shot off the bottom of the cross bar and into the net for a 1-0 Real Salt Lake lead.
The Quakes threatened on a host of opportunities to close out the first half, including a deft backheel attempt by Jahn in the 47th minute that drifted wide of the target, but RSL held on their one goal lead going into intermission.
San Jose looked much more threatening to start the second half as they played into the welcoming ruckus brought by the club's supporters' section, but the extra effort still could not bring about an equalizer. A corner kick attempt in the 58th minute nearly had a promising outcome as a follow-up shot appeared to carom off defender Chris Schuler's arm in the penalty area, but no call was made.
Real Salt Lake almost doubled its lead in the 69th minute when Olmes Garcia beat Koval down the sideline and turned into the Quakes area. His crossing pass was cut out by Goodson, but the ball drifted back toward the goal. Bernardez made a spectacular overhead clearance to keep the ball out of the net just as Devon Sandoval converged on him.
The Earthquakes made their last substitution with ten minutes to play, exchanging defender Bernardez for midfielder Leandro Barrera and shifting into a 3-4-3 formation. The Argentine's energy was well received as he played a promising shift on the left side, but time was not on San Jose's side and RSL remained compact on defense.
Five minutes of stoppage time was on offer, providing a lifeline to the desperate Quakes, but a last ditch effort from Alashe on a scramble in the box went tantalizingly over the cross bar in the waning seconds, and Real Salt Lake celebrated the victory and a four game unbeaten streak to open the 2015 season.
Up next for San Jose is a visit by the Vancouver Whitecaps this Saturday at Avaya Stadium. The Western Conference leaders have won four straight games after dropping their season opener.