SANDY, Utah — For only the second time this season, Real Salt Lake lost back-to-back games while the San Jose Earthquakes kept their slim playoff hopes alive as a Steven Lenhart brace led them to a 2-1 win Saturday night at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Lenhart scored two goals in a span of four wild minutes that also saw RSL score their lone goal. Lenhart first headed home a cross in the 18th minute before Javier Morales equalized with ease off a corner kick one minute later. Lenhart, however, gave the Earthquakes the lead for good in the 21st, nodding home a free kick that stunned RSL and the crowd.
The victory was the second on the road this season for San Jose (11-11-8, 41 points) and moves the Earthquakes within three points of the last playoff spot in the Western Conference. For RSL, the result leaves them two points shy of the Seattle Sounders for the top spot in the West.
Real Salt Lake (14-10-6, 48 points) were the better side for much of the first half, but poor defensive plays allowed the Earthquakes to take two seperate leads. Lenhart, who came into game with two goals on the season, punished Real Salt Lake when he thundered home a Cordell Cato cross in the 18th minute before putting his finger to his lips to quiet the sold-out Rio Tinto crowd of 20,504.
A minute later, Morales scored off a corner from Kyle Beckerman. The RSL playmaker found himself completely unmarked at the edge of the goal for an easy one-time hit past Earthquakes goalkeeper Jon Busch.
San Jose gave Real Salt Lake a taste of their own medicine shortly thereafter, as Lenhart responded to Morales' equalizer by netting the winner. Shea Salinas got the assist on the goal as he sent in a free kick from the left side that Lenhart got his head on and knocked it past a helpless RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando.
After playing 198 scoreless minutes against Real Salt Lake this season, San Jose netted two goals in a span of 180 seconds.
For a short time, the 'Quakes looked like last-season's Supporter's Shield winners with the way they were putting the ball in the box and finding guys to put the ball away. The offense was more reminiscent of the one that netted 82 goals than the one that had 29 coming into Saturday.
But the offensive bursts didn't last long. After the second Lenhart strike, RSL again took control of the match. The hosts' passing and possession advantage became larger and larger with San Jose packing the numbers behind the ball in an attempt to try and keep the lead.
Rimando did a great job keeping RSL within the one strike as he stoned Chris Wondolowski's potent header in the 49th minute. It was vintage Rimando as his used his amazing reaction ability and body control to palm the ball over the top off the crossbar.
RSL, who were without striker Alvaro Saborio, tried to make some more offensive moves as they brought in Luis Gil in for Khari Stephenson and Olmes Garcia in for Devon Sandoval before eventually going to a three-forward lineup when they subbed off defender Carlos Salcedo for Robbie Findley. But nothing could break through a stingy San Jose defense led by center back Clarence Goodson, who was forced to leave the match in the second half with an injury.
The Earthquakes will return to the field next Sunday when they travel to play Chivas USA. Real Salt Lake, meanwhile, have their last trip north of the border next Saturday, as they travel to play the Vancouver Whitecaps at BC Place.