Real Salt Lake coach John Ellinger said coming into to Saturday's match against the San Jose Earthquakes that he was trying to find a winning combination. With that in mind he gave rookie Jay Nolly the starting nod in goal ahead of D.J. Countess.
After seeing Real give up four goals in each of their last two games, Nolly was beaten just once in his second league start. But unfortunately, his teammates couldn't get anything past Earthquakes 'keeper Pat Onstad, and Real lost 1-0.
"It is nice that even though I am a rookie I am getting a chance," Nolly said. "But now I have to prove myself and show that I belong in this league."
Ellinger asked Nolly to do two things to prove he belongs: prevent early goals and help Real to a much-needed win as they try to nab a playoff spot.
The first part of the mission was something that had been a problem spot for Real all season long and played a part in Nolly in getting the selection ahead of Countess. Of the 44 goals allowed by RSL this season coming into Saturday's game, 11 were in the first 15 minutes.
With Real charging hard at San Jose, Nolly didn't see too much early action. But the shots he did face were all solid chances. In the 11th minute he did what he was there to do when he charged off his line to stop a shot by San Jose's Ronald Cerritos.
"He made a nice run and I just wanted to cut off his angle," said Nolly.
Nolly was credited with three saves on the night. But equally important were the several other occasions where he simply prevented shots from ever getting off.
"I just try to get off my line and be aggressive," Nolly said. "I try to get to balls before they drop and become shots. I can't sit on my line and be afraid or they will be all over me."
But while part one of mission was accomplished, part two began to melt away in the 41st minute when San Jose went up 1-0 on a Mark Chung effort. The well-placed ball gave Nolly no chance, but the rookie was quick to own up to his mistake.
"I would make that save if I had another shot," Nolly said. "Chung is a left-footed player so it made sense that he would go to the far post, but he made a nice move to beat the defender and cut it near post."
Even though he had given up a goal, Nolly kept his head and was able to hold San Jose scoreless in the second half. But with Real's offense failing to convert he had to settle for the loss on the night. No one blamed Nolly -- but himself.
"Jay Nolly played well tonight," said RSL head coach John Ellinger. "He gives you every time what you saw today."
David Hale is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.