By Ivan Makarov
San Jose Earthquakes are not going down without a fight this season.
With only five games remaining in the regular season before the Quakes played on the road against Real Salt Lake, they knew they needed to win at least once on the road, if they were to have a chance to content for the MLS Cup in playoffs. The win was needed even more so after the Quakes failed to secure a victory against Vancouver last Saturday.
That win was earned on a good defensive effort and a pair of headers from Steven Lenhart, as Quakes won that game in Salt Lake and greatly improved their standings.
Rio Tinto Stadium, the home of Real Salt Lake, has always been a hard place to play for any visiting team, with its stands close to the field, and passionate fans filling up the stands all contributing to Real’s dominance in SLC. They only lost two games at home this season, while the Quakes won just once on the road, where they struggled all season.
While the Quakes looked good in many road games but not seeing that translate on the scoreboard and in the standings, the scenario reversed itself on Saturday. This much was also obvious on the stats sheet, where Real dominated in just about every category – shots on goal (17 vs 8), passing accuracy (83% vs 71%), and ball possession (70% vs 30% for Real). Well, except in one category that matters most – the goals.
Quakes got the great start to the game they always want with an early goal from one of their forwards Steven Lenhart. Cordell Cado got the ball on the right wing, and crossed it high and long towards the penalty mark. Lenhart won the position and put a great header straight into the net, only 18 minutes into the game.
Real responded a minute later, as Javier Morales was left wide open on the far side of the net after Kyle Beckerman’s cross off the corner, making it 1-1 on the 19th minute.
But Lenhart put the Quakes ahead only two minutes later, once again from a powerful header. Shea Salinas took the free kick 40 or so yards away on the left side of the field, and his cross was to the similar spot where Lenhart scored earlier. Quakes tall forward won another challenge in the air, scoring his fourth goal of the season.
Quakes could have put themselves one more goal ahead in the second half on the 66th minute when Rafael Baka took off on a 2-on-1 breakaway with Chris Wondolowski on his left side, but he fired it off early, and straight into Real’s goalkeeper Nick Rimando.
Other than that, it was all Real with chances the rest of the game. Solid play by Quakes defense and their goalkeeper Jon Busch kept the home team off the scoreboard, and gave San Jose much needed three points. The win may have come with a price, as their defender Clarance Goodson left the game early with what looked like an injury.
A strong defensive effort, and offensive production means the Quakes earned their second victory on the road against a very good opponent.
The Quakes are still outside the playoffs picture, but should they win both remaining home games and grab a point on the road either against Chivas USA or LA Galaxy, they could end up in the fifth spot in the West, giving them a playoffs berth.
Their quest for that continues in LA on Sunday, September 29th, when they take on Chivas USA.