SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The final score may not be as convincing as it was when Real Salt Lake beat the San Jose Earthquakes in last year's season-opener, but the result remained the same on Saturday.
Kyle Beckerman’s 63rd-minute goal, a ricochet off the left post, gave RSL a 1-0 victory—making this the second consecutive year they've walked out of Buck Shaw Stadium with three road points to open the season.
Unlike in last year’s 3-0 whipping, the Earthquakes could say this time that they had the run of play over the course of the 90 minutes. But RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando—put under absolute siege in the final 20 minutes—wouldn't break.
In fact, in the face of a driving, wind-whipped rainstorm that grew worse by the minute, it was a night for the goalkeepers.
Starting with a pair of 70th-minute saves on 2010 Golden Boot winner Chris Wondolowski and Khari Stephenson, Rimando simply refused to concede the equalizer. He barely stopped Sam Cronin’s blast from distance in the 82nd minute, reaching behind him to scoop up the rebound. A minute later, Rimando couldn’t cleanly grab Brandon McDonald’s chipped pass, but yanked away the bounding ball just in time to prevent Wondolowski from scoring.
San Jose 'keeper Jon Busch came up with the match’s first critical save in the 62nd minute, when former Quake midfielder Ned Grabavoy broke in alone behind Ramiro Corrales and latched onto a lead pass from Alvaro Saborio. Grabavoy stamped his shot from 12 yards, but the charging Busch got his left hand to it and turned it away.
Busch could not do anything with Beckerman’s attempt a minute later, however. The RSL captain walked onto a pass from Javier Morales at the top of the box and launched a right-footed shot that took one skip, eluding a diving Busch and crashing off the post into the net.
After working extensively on a 4-3-3 in preseason, the Quakes came out listed in a 4-4-2 formation, their classic bread-and-butter for the last three years, with Wondolowski slotted alongside Ryan Johnson up top. That being said, Wondolowski did dip back into midfield more often than last year—especially when RSL had possession in the Quakes’ defensive third—and San Jose did utilize more overlapping attacks from fullbacks Ramiro Corrales and Chris Leitch.
Johnson almost had a golden chance to put the Quakes on the board in the 13th minute when he brought down a long cross in from Bobby Convey inside the penalty box and spun away from his marker, Nat Borchers. But Chris Schuler, starting at center back for RSL in place of injured 2010 MLS Defender of the Year Jamison Olave, slid back to get enough of a touch on the ball that Johnson whiffed on the shot, and goalkeeper Nick Rimando came off his line to clean up the mess.
Wondolowski snuck into open space inside the 6-yard box in the 21st minute and was found by a beautiful cross from Leitch, but last season’s 18-goal scorer could only get a glancing head to the ball, which went wide of the far post.
Real Salt Lake got their legs midway through the first half and nearly sprang Ned Grabavoy in the 30th minute when Cronin and McDonald had a communication breakdown in San Jose’s midfield. McDonald made a sliding stop to break up the play 30 yards from goal, but was whistled for a handball, setting up Morales, the man who torched the Quakes last year for two magnificent goals in a 3-0 season-opening victory at Buck Shaw.
This time, however, Morales’ chipped free kick in search of RSL forwards Fabian Espindola and Alvaro Saborio was easily corralled by Busch.
RSL – Kyle Beckerman 1 (Javier Morales 1) 63
SJ – Sam Cronin (caution) 6
SJ – Chris Leitch (caution) 37
SJ – Khari Stephenson (caution) 46
RSL – Fabian Espindola (caution) 60
Real Salt Lake – Nick Rimando; Chris Wingert, Nat Borchers, Chris Schuler, Tony Beltran; Ned Grabavoy (Jean Alexandre 77), Kyle Beckerman, Javier Morales, Will Johnson; Fabian Espindola (Arturo Alvarez 65), Alvaro Saborio (Paulo Araujo Jr. 84)
Substitutes not used: Kyle Reynish, Robbie Russell, Collen Warner, Andy Williams
San Jose – Jon Busch; Chris Leitch, Jason Hernandez, Brandon McDonald, Ramiro Corrales (Simon Dawkins 66); Joey Gjertsen (Ellis McLoughlin 71), Sam Cronin, Khari Stephenson (Anthony Ampaipitakwong 81), Bobby Convey; Ryan Johnson, Chris Wondolowski
Substitutes not used: Andrew Weber, Bobby Burling, Ike Opara, Brad Ring
Referee: Baldomero Toledo
Referee’s Assistants: Kevin Duliba, Ian Anderson
4th Official: Juan Guzman
Weather: Rain and 51 degrees