SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The San Jose Earthquakes’ 1-0 season-opening defeat at the hands of Real Salt Lake on Saturday spurred a bit of a philosophical debate for fans:
Is it better to have lost knowing you could have won the game, or to do so without having any hope at all?
HIGHLIGHTS: San Jose 0, Real Salt Lake 1
In last year’s season-opener, the Quakes found themselves in the latter situation, being thoroughly outclassed by an RSL side that cruised to a 3-0 victory at Buck Shaw Stadium.
This year, San Jose can take solace in the fact that they dominated play for long stretches, forced 10 saves from RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando—eight of them in the second half, when the Quakes had a driving, wind-whipped nearly horizontal rain at their backs—and more than held their own with a team widely expected to contend for the MLS Cup.
Unfortunately, solace doesn’t rate its own column in the standings.
“I feel really, really upset for the guys not to get something out of that game, because I thought we played great tonight,” Quakes coach Frank Yallop said. “I was very happy with the performance, and obviously not the result.”
That was a viewpoint shared in Yallop’s locker room, where his players felt they deserved at least a point, even if it wasn’t forthcoming.
“There’s not too many things where I can look back at this match and say, ‘We really, really need to go back to the drawing board,’” center back Jason Hernandez told MLSsoccer.com. “I thought defensively, we were doing well, offensively, we were doing well. ... My heart hurts for them a little bit. We felt like we should have got more out of this match. But that’s the game.”
Fate took out some of that cruelty on 2010 Golden Boot winner Chris Wondolowski, who had a wide-open point-blank chance in the 22nd minute slide wide of the back post when he couldn’t redirect Chris Leitch’s curling cross on net. Wondolowski, who was also stopped in the 71st minute when he took a solid left-footed rip from 15 yards out but fired directly at Rimando, tried to shoulder the lion’s share of blame.
“That’s on me,” he told MLSsoccer.com. “I had three sitters I should have scored nine out of 10, 10 out of 10 times, and I didn’t get one of them. It’s very frustrating for me.”
Despite Wondolowski’s deep disappointment, the Quakes still had plenty of other chances to clip a shot past Rimando, who was under nearly constant fire after Kyle Beckerman put RSL ahead in the 63rd minute.
With three attack-minded newcomers—Simon Dawkins, Ellis McLoughlin and Anthony Ampaipitakwong—coming on as dangerous subs, San Jose put eight shots on Rimando in the final 20 minutes, prompting seven saves.
Included in those stops was a blast from Sam Cronin in the 81st that actually bounced behind Rimando, who was able to arch back and grab it.
There also was a high-arcing ball from Brandon McDonald that Rimando couldn’t grab cleanly. But he was just able to whisk the rebound away from a hard-charging Wondolowski.
“We should have at least tied that game, if not won that game,” Busch said. “We can all look at the tape. They got very lucky tonight. Nick’s a very good goalkeeper, but I’ve never seen so many balls go through a goalie’s legs and not go in."
In the end, though, all the Earthquakes got for their trouble was an extra helping of motivation heading into next weekend’s trip to Dallas.
“You’ve got to keep in mind, it’s the first game of the season,” Busch said. “There’s still 33 games left. It’s disappointing, because we feel like, the way we played, we should have got something out of it. But soccer sometimes is a cruel game. And tonight is a perfect example.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @sjquakes