League MVP candidate Dwayne De Rosario and rookie Julian Nash notched first-half goals, but the San Jose Earthquakes had to settle for a 2-2 tie against visiting Real Salt Lake on Saturday night at Spartan Stadium.
Despite the disappointing draw, the Earthquakes become the first team in MLS history to go through a full home schedule undefeated, while Real, which got goals from Kevin Novak and Andy Williams, became just the second team in league history to go through an entire season winless on their travels.
The Earthquakes had already clinched the MLS Supporters' Shield for the league's best record before they even took the field, so the only question was whether they would be able to maintain their perfect mark at home. With regular starters Danny Califf, Brian Ching, Alejandro Moreno, Wade Barrett and Ricardo Clark unavailable due to national team duty and Eddie Robinson serving the second of his two-match suspension, it appeared that the Earthquakes might struggle to do so.
Real Salt Lake, meanwhile, managed to create a variety of looks from its ever-morphing 3-5-2 formation, but was unable to generate any chances in the first half, looking very much like a team that entered the match not having won a single road game all season.
The game got off to a bit of a ragged start. San Jose took a while to find a rhythm and was often content to send futile long balls in the early going. But the Quakes could at least point to inexperience as a potential cause for the slow start.
Kevin Goldthwaite made his first MLS start at left back, while Chris Aloisi dusted off his cleats to make his first appearance since June 12. Nash made his first MLS start of the season up top, while rookie Danny O'Rourke replaced Clark in a defensive midfield role, with usual right back Kelly Gray moving inside to pair with Ryan Cochrane in the center of defense.
Midfielder Brian Mullan gave the home crowd cause to murmur in the 25th minute when he slipped through two defenders along the right side of the penalty area. Mullan then rolled a left-footed shot through the legs of center back Nelson Akwari, but Real goalkeeper Jay Nolly was able to make the easy save.
But then De Rosario got loose, breaking the deadlock with a strong individual effort in the 38th minute. Taking a short pass from Ronald Cerritos near midfield, De Rosario pushed the ball past RSL defender Brian Dunseth and went in on goal.
With Dunseth pursuing, De Rosario tried to play a centering pass. Dunseth deflected the ball, which then nudged off the leg of the diving Nolly. The Canadian international was the first to the ball, sliding a left-footed shot into the open net.
Salt Lake midfielder Kenny Cutler provided his team with its only decent chance three minutes later when he hit a 25-yard shot just wide left.
But then it was the Nash's turn to get into the act, as he took advantage of some lax defending by Dunseth to give the Quakes a 2-0 cushion. Receiving a pass from Cerritos along the top of the box, Nash was able to turn against the backpedaling Dunseth and then roll a right-footed shot into the lower left corner.
Aloisi nearly gave the Earthquakes a 3-0 lead in the 51st minute but his header off a Goldthwaite free kick was knocked just wide of the left post by the diving Nolly.
RSL got a goal back during a busy 64th minute thanks to a defensive breakdown by the Earthquakes. The goal came on a cross from the left side by midfielder Novak that cleared the head of De Rosario and rolled into lower right corner past stunned goalkeeper Pat Onstad. The visitors also managed to squeeze in two substitutions during that eventful minute, bringing in Jamie Watson just before the goal and Leslie Fitzpatrick just afterward.
The two would then combine to set up the equalizer for Real. The play began with a nice run by Watson, who took a pass from Fitzpatrick along the left sideline and dribbled the ball all the way into the box. The 19-year-old then cut back on the pursuing Aloisi and lofted a right-footed cross to the far post, where Williams slipped behind Goldthwaite and smacked it home off the full volley.
Cochrane nearly came through with the game-winner in the 84th minute, latching on to a knockdown header by Gray off a free kick. But under intense pressure from Fitzpatrick, the veteran defender missed high from point-blank range. Just two minutes later, RSL forward Melvin Tarley was denied a potential winner on a reflex save by Onstad.
Brad Davis made his first appearance for San Jose since Aug. 20, entering the match in the 57th minute for a hobbling Cerritos. Davis, the Earthquakes' lone All-Star representative, looked sharp after missing the previous seven games with a strained left groin.
MLSnet.com Man of the Match: Dwayne De Rosario (San Jose Earthquakes)
Danny Kadah is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.