In the wake of Real Salt Lake star Javier Morales' tour-de-force performance against the Earthquakes on Saturday, delivering two goals and setting up RSL’s third, it was easy to say that RSL’s midfield thoroughly outplayed San Jose's.
But the Quakes’ Arturo Alvarez -- one-fourth of that same midfield group -- would beg to differ.
“I wouldn’t say that,” Alvarez said after RSL’s 3-0 victory. “Goals beat us today. Obviously, they kept better possession in the midfield than us, but I think it was a pretty even game. Throughout the whole game, we created some chances. We didn’t take advantage of it, and that kind of hurt us in the end.”
RSL took advantage of giveaways in the central third. One such turnover led to a string of five RSL passes, ending in Morales’ stunning, 35-yard goal in the 14th minute.
“In the first half, they were keeping the ball pretty well,” Alvarez said. “We’ve got to learn from that and got to learn to break teams down.”
Alvarez put together the Earthquakes’ best chance in the 60th minute, making a one-on-three run almost to the endline before firing a shot that RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando pushed into the left post. The rebound came to André Luiz, but his left-footed shot was well high of the mark.
San Jose coach Frank Yallop said after the match that André Luiz, who underwent arthroscopic surgery four weeks ago, “is not 100 percent yet.” Since one of the tenets of this season was to use the Earthquakes’ health and depth to avoid playing guys who were dinged up or out of form, why use him
“In the [exhibition] game against Portland [on March 20], he looked better than he did tonight,” Yallop said. “He’d been training well. Maybe got a clip on the knee in the first half, maybe he was a little sore. He didn’t do badly, but just wasn’t himself.”
Would Eduardo have helped?
Three players -- Joey Gjertsen, Ike Opara and Javier Robles -- debuted as Quakes on Saturday. But fans were left waiting for what was arguably San Jose’s biggest acquisition of the offseason: Brazilian forward Eduardo.
The former FC Basel striker has been slowed by a sore hip, and didn’t return from Brazil until Friday after dealing with visa and personal issues.
Would Eduardo have made a difference against RSL? It’s impossible to say with certainty. Cornell Glen created some chances but was twice wide of the mark in dangerous situations. Ryan Johnson got loose behind the defense but his one dribble gave Rimando enough time to storm out and block the shot.
“A healthy Eduardo is good,” Yallop said. “Now he’s back, his visa stuff’s sorted out, so he’ll have a good two weeks of practice and we’ll see if he figures in the game in Chicago.”
Opara: Debut is mixed
Opara’s first MLS appearance was a mixed bag. He took some knocks, such as the elbow he suffered while trying unsuccessfully to head clear a long RSL pass in the 27th minute. The ball wound up falling under control of Morales, setting him up to make the pass that led to Fabián Espíndola’s goal, which gave RSL a commanding 2-0 lead.
But there were also signs of why the Earthquakes made Opara the No. 3 overall selection in the 2010 SuperDraft, flashing the catch-up speed that made him an All-American at Wake Forest to track down second-half substitute Álvaro Saborío on multiple occasions.
“The first 10 minutes, you’re just trying to get your feet wet, trying to settle down,” the 21-year-old said. “I had one bad ball, but from there I was a lot smarter with the balls I was playing, being safer. For me, I got better as the game went along.”
Opara said the speed of the game wasn’t so different from NCAA play, but the number of potential threats a center must keep in mind was somewhat daunting.
“You’re trying to track second runners from midfield and you’ve got to keep track of the forwards,” Opara said. “There’s just so much going on around you when you’re in the back, so you’ve got to communicate with the guys in front of you and the guys next to you. So that’s the big key, more than anything.”