SAN JOSE, Calif. — The San Jose Earthquakes were stymied by Real Salt Lake for more than 90 minutes Saturday night at Avaya Stadium, but the visitors couldn’t keep the hosts off the scoreboard in second half stoppage time.
Substitutes Paul Marie and Danny Hoesen combined for the only goal in a 1-0 Earthquakes victory over RSL, partnering on a corner kick in the 93rd minute. For Hoesen, who’s only recently come back from a hamstring injury, scoring the game winning goal was a special moment.
“I was very motivated,” Hoesen said. “The team is doing well, and everybody’s happy and enjoying it and I want to be a part of that. You are always motivated to get into the game, and luckily I could help today.”
The game looked certain to end in a scoreless draw, as RSL played very effective defense against San Jose, but head coach Matias Almeyda saw an opportunity to collect all three points. His gamble to bring Hoesen on and push more players into the attack paid off handsomely.
“We saw that we could win the game,” Almeyda said. “Even though we had control of the game, we didn’t have many clear chances, as they were able to close things in the back. We had to insist with our game, and get there maintaining our goals.”
The 1-0 result pushed the Quakes’ home unbeaten streak to eight games, and the three points pushed them ahead of RSL in the standings and above the playoff line.
“I am so proud of the guys, and to have a coach that just goes for it, he went for the win,” captain Chris Wondolowski said. “I love that we are going for the win, and I love that we were rewarded for it.”
The Quakes were playing their fourth game in 11 days, having gone 2-1-0 in the previous three, but coach Matias Almeyda selected the same starting lineup, and some small signs of lethargy were evident. That didn’t matter by the end, as the players left every ounce of energy they had left on the field.
“It was a good win,” Eriksson said. “I think we controlled the game and were the better team. We fought hard out there today and we put a real offensive team on the field at the end. It succeeded and we took three points, so we’re really happy with it. That was great.”
From the opening whistle, both teams looked more interesting in testing out one another’s defensive formation than going for broke on offense. It lead to cagey first stanza with very few highlight moments.
Real Salt Lake looked more interested in keeping the game level than venturing too often into the attacking third. Their stout and organized back line was nearly impenetrable in the first half, as San Jose struggled on nearly every possession to get a clear look on target.
The stats at intermission, with the score still 0-0, reflected the run of play from both sides. The Earthquakes enjoyed a more than 2-1 advantage in possession and attempted passes, but they also had only two shots on goal, neither of which posed much trouble for RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando.
The visitors enjoyed more of the ball to start the second half, twice forcing Quakes’ ‘keeper Daniel Vega to make an important save, but never really threatening to score. The space created by the advancing RSL forwards provided some opportunities for San Jose on ensuing possessions, but they couldn’t break down Salt Lake’s disciplined defense.
RSL should have done better in the 65th minute, when Nick Besler had only Vega to beat on an expertly run counterattack, but the midfielder slid his shot just to the wrong side of the far post.
Almeyda and RSL coach Mike Petke went to their respective benches, both looking for that key catalyst to break the scoreless deadlock. Shea Salinas entered for the Quakes in 66th minute while RSL attacker Albert Rusnak made his appearance in the 69th. The game’s complexion, however, did not change.
San Jose then traded some defense for offense, bringing in both Paul Marie and Danny Hoesen. Almeyda and the Quakes, who entered the night one point behind Real Salt Lake in the Western Conference standings, were taking a gamble with the moves, but settling for a nil-nil draw seemed the last thing on the coach’s mind.
“The team has been working well,” Almeyda said. “While you never quite know ahead of time which subs you will make, we are balancing the energy and especially the convictions of the players coming in.”
From the 75th minute on, the teams traded jabs , but neither could land the killer punch. Hoesen looked more likely to find the back of the net, but Rimando was ready for every challenge, and RSL bided their time with methodical ease.
Rusnak had his big chance, rifling a ball from the top of the area that forced Vega into a good save. It was a huge opportunity for the visitors to take all three points on the road, one the hosts were glad to see go wanting.
It was one they would rue. In the 93rd minute, the Earthquakes executed a perfect short corner kick that saw Cristian Espinoza quickly restart the ball and Marie race into the area on the dribble before picking out Hoesen at the top of the six yard box. The Dutch striker stretched out his entire frame to wrap his foot around the pass and send the ball past Rimando for the late winner.
“We train a lot on set pieces, but this one was just made up,” Hoesen said. “Cristian and Paul were paying attention and they took it quick. Everybody was sleeping from their defenders, and I saw it just in time and was able to tap it in.”
It was Hoesen’s fourth goal of the season, and his first since April 20 when he scored twice against in a 4-1 win over Sporting Kansas City. For Marie, it was his first point of any kind in his short MLS career, and it was well appreciated by his teammates.
“The guys that came in as subs made a huge difference,” Wondolowski said. “It’s been our mentality the whole year that we have to stay in tune with it the whole game. It’s next man up, and they made the most of it.”
The win was deserved for San Jose, given their domination on the stats sheet, and the players and coaching staff celebrated at the final whistle with a mix of happiness and relief.
“When we win, I am noticing that there is not really a standout player,” Almeyda said. “Everybody is playing well, and that tells us we are a team.”
The Earthquakes won’t have too long to savor the victory, as they next travel to Southern California to take on the LA Galaxy. They’ll take a short rest, but then the focus turns to the Cali Clasico rematch on Friday and a chance to take another three points from their rivals.