Boxed in like sardines in a tin can, Real Salt Lake found itself playing a game of kick and chase from the outset. In the 14th minute when a routine throw-in back to RSL midfielder Kyle Beckerman bounced violently off the Buck Shaw Stadium turf and over his head, the San Jose Earthquakes were in control.
Earthquakes forward Chris Wondolowski took the heavy touch that felled Beckerman. The goal poacher extraordinaire cut the ball back against his body, ahead of Beckerman lunging to recover, at the entry point of the six-yard box--the corner.
Wondo chopped the ball just enough for Earthquakes midfielder Sam Cronin to control it with two touches and smash the ball with his left foot, ripping it past RSL keeper Nick Rimando into far post side netting.
Earthquakes have hammered this region recently--real ones measuring high on the Richter scale, causing damage to buildings and disrupting lives along the way. Yet rescue workers are the ones helping the Bay Area recover from the damage that the natural disaster inflicted upon its residents.
Down 1-0 with plenty of time to play, RSL needed someone to rescue them from disaster on Sat. Aug. 30. The last thing the claret and cobalt needed was to lose a second game in a row--thus putting the club in a precarious spot in the ever-changing Western Conference standings.
A loss at San Jose would have dropped RSL to a tie for fourth place--unheard of considering the claret and cobalt were in first place two weeks ago. A win would help RSL keep pace with Seattle for the top spot.
On this evening in Northern California though, RSL's defense would test Rimando's patience. Another terrible back pass in the 17th minute led to a giveaway by defender Nat Borchers, who watched the ball bounce over his head and into the path of Wondolowski, ever the opportunist as he laced a one-timer that went wide of the near post.
A chippy game left bodies crumpled all over the Buck Shaw Stadium turf at critical junctures--none more so than in the 34th minute. Once Borchers won a 50-50 ball on the right sideline, two San Jose defenders were on him.
Borchers split the two Earthquakes defenders with a square ball into RSL midfielder Javier Morales, who took two heavy touches towards the center of the park and sent a low, searching through ball across the park into the path of onrushing forward Joao Plata.
The speedy Ecuadorian neared the 18 and held up his dribble--because here came Mansally, sprinting past Plata and into open space near his left corner of the penalty box. Mansally ran out of real estate and an Earthquakes defender was hot on his tail though--so he cut the ball back.
The ball was headed for the middle of the Earthquakes 6-yard-box and RSL forward Olmes Garcia--making a diagonal run while a San Jose defender chased from behind. Mansally's bouncing pass rolled across Garcia's body to his left foot.
Garcia attempted to take a touch but was taken down from behind by the Earthquakes defender. In a game where nothing had gone right for RSL, this situation was different. The referee whistled for a foul and pointed to the spot for a penalty kick.
The architect of the attack himself would step up to take the all-important PK. Morales stutter-stepped in one direction, his trademark move--then smashed a blast that bounced against the other side of the net--leaving Earthquakes keeper Jon Busch helpless.
RSL had tied the game 1-1 with about ten minutes to play in the first half--and had some life--yet the score would stay the same throughout the next 55 minutes. Both teams would have chances--but neither team would cave in to the other.
“I thought it was a choppy match. You had a team that was fighting for their playoff life in San Jose and a team that was pushing to move up in the table in us," RSL head coach Jeff Cassar said post-game. "We fought hard. Both teams fought hard and probably a due result.”
Borchers nearly let in what would have been the second goal early on. Yet even he realized after the match that while RSL didn't play its best defensively, when you're dealing with Wondo--and newcomer Tommy Thompson--up top, you've got your hands full.
“I thought it was OK. In the first half, we gave up a few chances that we could have prevented coming off of their ability to penetrate down the middle and getting some crosses in, but in the second half I thought we were far better," Borchers said post-game. "We held our line a little higher and that’s what made the difference.”
With FC Dallas, Seattle and Colorado--all conference foes--coming up in the next three weeks, RSL will take this result any way it can get it. Now sitting at 43 points, tied for second with the LA Galaxy and one point ahead of FC Dallas--the team it plays in Sandy later this week--the claret and cobalt clearly control their own destiny.