Goals from Danny Hoesen and Marco Urena paced the Quakes to a two-goal lead, and a solid defensive effort, even after going a man down late in the second half, stood up in a 2-1 victory that pushed San Jose’s points total to 23 at the halfway mark of the season, good for fifth place in the Western Conference and only two points out of second.
“I never say must-win, unless it is the last game of the season,” said head coach Dominic Kinnear. “For the confidence of the team, it was a much needed win. Last week, we were a little bit frustrated with the way the game went, so the only thing you can do is when you next step on the field is find out what you can do better.”
The Earthquakes (6-6-5) welcomed Urena and central midfielder Darwin Ceren back into the Starting XI one week after both had served one game suspensions the week before. Real Salt Lake (5-11-2) was without their talisman Kyle Beckerman, as the U.S. international was out due to yellow card accumulation.
But it was Hoesen that impressed the most from the opening whistle, as the Dutchman notched his second goal of the season. He has had a part in the last four Earthquakes goals.
"I'm feeling good,” said Hoesen. “The team is making it easy for me. Of course you practice all week and get to know the players better and their qualities. At the moment I'm feeling confident. I just try to help the team, and that worked today."
"We were hoping for more goals and I think he's got more goals in him,” added Kinnear. “Sometimes he's looking like he's really aggressive going forward toward goal, and sometimes he's looking a bit unselfish and that may be a confidence thing on his part. We try to get him in positions to face the goal because that's when we think he's very good, so yeah, he was a threat tonight, which is nice to see."
In just the first minute, the Quakes had a scoring chance, as Hoesen was released on the left wing, but he scuffed his shot wide of the far post. In the third minute, RSL’s Yura Movsisyan repeated the feat for the visitors, narrowly missing an almost identical shot. Both salvos gave the game a start that was lacking over all 90 minutes in last week’s scoreless draw with Sporting Kansas City.
The closest encounter of the scoring kind came in the 13th minute, when Marco Urena rattled the post on a breakaway. The Quakes kept the ball alive, and seconds later, Hoesen scored from inside the box to put the home side up 1-0. The goal broke the team’s season-high scoreless streak at 246 minutes, stretching back to Hoesen’s goal against the LA Galaxy four weeks ago.
Incidentally, the goal came on the Quakes sixth shot of the evening. In last week’s 0-0 result against SKC, San Jose had five shots the entire game.
San Jose nearly doubled its lead in the 39th minute, when Jahmir Hyka wriggled free near the top of the box after receiving a perfect chest-pass from Marco Urena. He lashed a shot on target, but it deflected directly off Chris Wondolowski’s backside, saving Nick Rimando needing to make the save.
Halftime arrived without incident, and both teams began the second act with the same line-ups that started the game.
In the 52rd minute, a free kick from RSL’s Joao Plata caromed off the post after avoiding the leap of David Bingham. It was the closest scoring chance of the night for the visitors.
Urena came close to the doubling the Quakes lead in the 56th minute when he scampered into the area with his defender in his wake, but the Costa Rican’s close range effort was kneed away by Rimando at the near post.
In the 58th minute, Urena did not miss, as Hoesen’s long ball on the right sideline slipped the forward behind the defense. Urena elected to shoot far post from a tight angle, and banked his shot just off the inside of the post to make it 2-0 Quakes.
But then the game changed on a rash challenge from Nick Lima in the 71st minute. Already on a yellow card, the rookie clattered into Chris Wingert, far inside the RSL side of the field. Lima appeared to slip as he entered the tackle, but his momentum cleared out the Salt Lake defender and left referee Fotis Bazakos with no choice but to show Lima a second yellow card.
“He’s aggressive, and in that moment he was overly aggressive,” said Kinnear. “I think the referee handled it correctly. It doesn’t come down to experience, it comes down to a decision. He thinks he can win every ball, and he’s learning that.”
Down to 10 men, the Quakes made a pair of tactical changes, replacing goalscorers Hoesen and Urena with Shea Salinas and Kofi Sarkodie. For Salinas, it marked his 200th appearance as an Earthquake, going back to his rookie season of 2008.
Even with a man advantage, Real Salt Lake did not look to threatening on offense. At times, the Quakes were able to bat the ball around midfield with little pressure. Anibal Godoy and Darwin Ceren, both destined for Gold Cup duty next month, manned the center of the field expertly for the entire match, especially over the last 15 minutes
“Godoy and Ceren really set the tempo for us,” said Kinnear. “I thought they were good. They sprayed the ball and they made good decisions, when to play forward, when to play square. When we do that, we are a better team then if we rush it and just knock it forward.”
A stoppage time consolation goal by Jose Hernandez on the last kick of the game was only enough to spoil Bingham’s shutout bid.
The win was only the fourth at Avaya Stadium this season, giving them a home mark of 4-1-4 a the midpoint of the campaign. RSL, already struggling to pick up points away from Rio Tinto Stadium, dropped to 1-8-1 on the road.
Up next for the Earthquakes in MLS play is the annual Cali Clasico at Stanford Stadium. The LA Galaxy are the only team to beat San Jose in the Nor Cal this year, winning 4-2 at Avaya Stadium a month ago. The Quakes will be seeking a measure of revenge against their rivals next Saturday night. This Wednesday, San Jose plays the Seattle Sounders in the Round of 16 of the U.S. Open Cup.
“We have a busy week ahead, with the game on Wednesday, the game on Saturday, and following up Tuesday in Atlanta,” said Kinnear. “There’s a lot of minutes out there, so we will definitely be reaching into the squad to get as much as we can out of everybody.”
Wednesday’s game kicks off at 7:15 p.m. at Avaya Stadium and is free for Earthquakes season ticket holders. If San Jose beats Seattle, it will host a quaterfinal match in the tournament in mid-July. The winner of the 2017 U.S. Open Cup receives a bid to the 2019 CONCACAF Champions League.