So much for the idea that Real Salt Lake weren’t going to be able to handle the pressure of defending an MLS Cup trophy. And so much for the notion of San Jose’s improved defense.
RSL blew holes in both those theories with a 3-0 victory Saturday. Javier Morales scored twice and Fabián Espíndola had the third as the surprise titlists of 2009 looked every bit an elite side as they opened 2010.
Morales disappointed a crowd of 10,589—the largest ever to watch the Quakes at Buck Shaw Stadium—in the 14th minute when he craftily controlled a pass from Espíndola and fired a wicked shot from 35 yards out. The dipping rocket found the upper corner at the far post, leaving San Jose goalkeeper Joe Cannon no recourse.
San Jose appeared to right itself after that, stringing together some good snippets of play here and there. But as with last year, an unlucky break on the back line helped derail the Quakes’ chances.
It happened in the 27th minute, when Jason Hernandez attempted to break up a lead pass from Morales meant for Espíndola. Instead, the ball bounced off Espíndola’s chest and landed at his feet, affording him ample opportunity to beat the charging Cannon.
The outcome was cemented in the 53rd minute, when Robbie Findley flicked on a pretty back header that Espíndola ran onto. Chris Leitch made the only play he could, holding back Espíndola and drawing a red card at the edge of the penalty area.
Morales duly stepped up and curled home a gorgeous free kick, once again high and to the far post, leaving Cannon diving at air.
It was the third straight loss in home openers for the Quakes. The club talked in preseason about improving their league-worst defense, which allowed 50 goals last season, but didn’t bring those plans to fruition on the pitch.
San Jose nearly salvaged a goal in the 60th minute when Arturo Alvarez went one-on-three and, with the help of a fortuitous bounce, got free near the endline. His high-angle shot ricocheted off the post, however, and André Luiz’s left-footed stab at the rebound went well high.
Cornell Glen was set loose by Ryan Johnson in the 77th minute. Glen knifed between RSL rookie Rauwshan McKenzie, who had come on 14 minutes earlier to make his debut, and Chris Wingert, but pushed his effort wide left.
Click HERE for the complete match highlights.
RSL: Javier Morales 1 (Espindola, Findley), 14th minute; Fabian Espíndola 1, 27th minute; Morales 2, 54th minute
RSL: Ned Grabavoy (caution, reckless foul), 39th minute
SJ: Chris Leitch (ejected, reckless foul), 53rd minute; Brandon McDonald (caution, reckless foul), 57th minute; Ike Opara (caution, reckless foul), 90th minute
Real Salt Lake: Rimando; Russell, Borchers (McKenzie 63), Olave, Wingert; Grabavoy (Williams 64), Beckerman, Morales, W. Johnson; Espíndola (Saborío 72), Findley
San Jose: Cannon; Leitch, Hernandez, Opara, Corrales; Alvarez, André Luiz, Robles (McDonald 46), Convey (Gjertsen 46); Glen (Amarikwa 83), R. Johnson