Even for reigning champions, Real Salt Lake came into Saturday’s season opener at San Jose with plenty to prove. Was the 2009 MLS Cup Championship a fluke? Could they win their first-ever season opener? Could they improve on such a miserable road record from last season?
Consider those questions answered.
“We wanted to make sure that we were competitive this year, and we wanted to be consistent on the road,” goalkeeper Nick Rimando said after RSL’s 3-0 win over San Jose at Buck Shaw Stadium. “It was good to come in here to prove to everyone that we could play on the road, and that last year wasn’t a fluke.”
The result was almost completely positive, as the champs pounced on the Earthquakes and never let up. Real Salt Lake came out attacking, created numerous chances throughout the match and kept up the pressure against the overmatched hosts until the final whistle.
The win marked a great opening game for two Argentine players that Real Salt Lake has high hopes for this season. Javier Morales scored in the 14th minute on a fantastic 25-yard blast off a pass from countryman Fabián Espíndola, and the two switched roles on a second tally just minutes later when Espindola took a perfectly weighted through-ball from Morales and knocked in a clever chip over San Jose goalkeeper Joe Cannon.
Morales added a second goal to cap the night off a direct kick after Espíndola was taken down on a red card tackle outside the penalty area by Earthquakes defender Chris Leitch.
RSL coach Jason Kreis said he has high expectations from Morales this season, and Morales himself “would be the first to admit” he can produce more in 2010.
“It’s good to have a playmaker with a lot of talent that has something to prove,” Kreis said.
Real Salt Lake suffered a poor road performance each of the last two seasons, and finished with just nine road goals and a minus-15 goal differential in 2009. So it had to feel good to get a win, score three goals on the road, and dominate the match.
The small field at San Jose’s Buck Shaw Stadium appeared to play to Salt Lake’s benefit. It seems more natural that San Jose would have the edge on its home pitch, but the diamond midfield of RSL relies on short, tight passing and constant movement, and the group appeared very fluid while San Jose’s midfield appeared to be disjointed for much of the match.