Gray has bright debut with San Jose
One thing about Kelly Gray -- the kid sure knows how to make an entrance.
Playing in front of a host of family and friends, who came to Spartan Stadium to see his San Jose Earthquakes debut, the local product came through with a goal to help his new team to a 3-0 victory against Real Salt Lake on Saturday night.
"This just continues the dream I'm in right now," said the 24-year-old Gray, who was excited to learn he had been traded from Chicago to San Jose earlier in the week.
Gray's goal gave the Earthquakes a 2-0 lead in the 13th minute and San Jose was able to cruise from there. Gray, who graduated from Leigh High School in San Jose, initiated the play by sending a ball down the right sideline to Ronald Cerritos.
The veteran forward held the ball long enough to allow Gray to overlap, then he found his new teammate with a deft pass through traffic. Gray then dribbled around RSL defender Matt Behncke and blasted a right-footed shot from a tight angle into the far left corner.
"I just wanted to have a good performance in my debut," said Gray. "It just happened to be that Ronald played me an unbelievable ball and I had a good touch and a good shot."
One of the attributes in Gray's game that was attractive to the Earthquakes was his ability to get forward from the right back spot. Gray had fallen out of favor in Chicago, and when he was made available, San Jose pounced on the opportunity to acquire the fourth-year veteran.
"It was a good pickup for us. He's a good defender, but he's also just a good soccer player," said San Jose head coach Dominic Kinnear. "Everyone wants to talk about his goal, but overall as a right back, he was very good tonight."
All night long, the Earthquakes were able to exploit Real's five-man midfield, occasionally through the middle, but more often along the outside. All three San Jose goals came from wide play, with Mark Chung knocking home the first goal off a cross within two minutes of the opening kickoff and left back Wade Barrett getting forward to volley home yet another cross from the left side.
Cerritos was active all night, playing a part in all three goals. On the first goal, Cerritos shed his defender, U.S. national team mainstay Eddie Pope, received the ball in the midfield and played it out wide to Brad Davis, who then worked a 1-2 with Dwayne De Rosario. Davis then hit the decisive cross to Chung, who was able to score with a first-time left-footed shot. Then he was credited with an assist on both the goal by Gray and the one by Barrett.
"He was making runs from inside to out, creating lots of space in the middle, espeically toward the goal," said De Rosario. "Ronald made some great runs out wide, and we were able to get different runners in the middle like Wade to score that goal."
On the one hand, San Jose was extremely proficient in generating attractive combination play, but on the other, Real Salt Lake made for a more than willing foil. A non-existent midfield forced coach John Ellinger into two halftime substitutions and he was noticeably angry with his team after the game.
"I found myself open a lot of times - they were kind of lost on the field," said De Rosario. "They looked like a team that was very uninterested, and we were able to take advantage of that."
With Cerritos and running-mate Alejandro Moreno creating loads of space in the midfield, it simply became a matter of the Earthquakes executing on their passing game. As Kinnear put it, "when it works, it looks great, and tonight it was working."
"The biggest thing tonight was that we moved the ball well through the midfield," added center back Danny Califf, who presided over yet another solid defensive effort. "We got good wide attacking play and obviously jumping on them early demoralized them."
Danny Kadah is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.