SANDY, Utah — Despite an extraordinarily quiet match, Chris Wondolowski showed on Saturday night exactly why he’s on top of the Golden Boot table. The San Jose Earthquakes marksman squeaked an 85th-minute header under Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando to give the Earthquakes a 2-1 win at Rio Tinto Stadium.
It was Wondolowski’s league-leading 13th goal of the year.
Full Match Highlights
The three points lifted the Quakes past RSL and into first place in the Western Conference. They now posses the best record in MLS.
In a back-and-forth match, Quakes striker Alan Gordon broke the deadlock against the run of play in the 75th minute, capitalizing on a miscommunication in the RSL defense. Salt Lake’s Javier Morales then leveled the score with a gorgeous free kick four minutes later.
It never should’ve been so close. After the match, RSL coach Jason Kreis could only walk back to his bench and hold his head in his hands in frustration after watching his team miss more than a few scoring opportunities.
Fabian Espindola had the first great chance, when he broke into the San Jose area, rounded the goalkeeper, Jon Busch, and curled a ball toward the back post. It was either going into the bottom corner or Alvaro Saborio was going to tap it in, but defender Justin Morrow got back and headed the ball away before either could happen.
RSL then blew a terrific scoring opportunity in the 57th minute. Morales sent a ball toward the penalty spot, where Busch, Saborio and Will Johnson converged. Somehow the ball squirted out to Johnson, skipped around Busch, but was tackled by Jason Hernandez just before he could get his shot off.
Hernandez’s defensive heroics were to become a theme on the night.
OPTA CHALKBOARD: Gordon's efficiency as a sub
After Morales hit a half-volley inches wide of the upper-right corner in the 62nd minute, RSL substitute Jonny Steele found himself with a great chance in the 72nd minute. His shot was also blocked, though, and popped up to Saborio, who headed it on frame. Once again, Hernandez leapt high to flick the ball up and over the goal.
San Jose finally broke the pressure and the deadlock in the 75th minute. Ramiro Corrales’ free kick from the right side was allowed to bounce, and a miscommunication between Rimando and Nat Borchers left the ball sitting up for Gordon to head into the open goal.
Four minutes later, Morales brought the energy back into the stadium. His perfect free kick from 24 yards swerved over the wall and into the upper-left corner.
But despite the momentum being with RSL again, San Jose took advantage of a long throw to regain the lead. A long throw from Morrow was headed on by Gordon, and Wondolowski beat his man to the ball to redirect it on goal. Rimando got down and probably should’ve smothered the ball, but instead it spun under him and over the line.
RSL, who have lost two in a row at home, travel to Columbus next week. San Jose return home to host Seattle in the quarterfinals of the US Open Cup on Tuesday.
MLSsoccer.com Men of the Match
|Rank||Player||What We Saw|
|1||Jason Hernandez||Strong and quick in the back to keep tabs on the active Espindola, topped off by two goal-saving plays on the line.|
|2||Fabian Espindola||Buzzed around all night, had two good chances and a good shout for a penalty denied; set up his teammates several times, only to watch them misfire.|
|3||Alan Gordon||Came on as a sub to spark the Quakes attack. Notched the first goal on an opportunistic header, then flicked on the long throw to set up Wondo's winner.|