SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Given the opportunity to pound short-handed Real Salt Lake before a ebullient Buck Shaw Stadium crowd for a second time this season, the San Jose Earthquakes didn’t hesitate, pumping home four goals in the final 27 minutes to cap a 5-0 victory Saturday night.
But while the Quakes deserve full marks for not passing up an opportunity to go for the jugular, their success after Real Salt Lake captain Kyle Beckerman was escorted off the field in the 57th minute masked just how much San Jose was dominating proceedings up until that point.
“I felt we were in charge of the game from the opening whistle,” Quakes head coach Frank Yallop said. “I really didn’t think there was any doubt that we were going to win this game.”
HIGHLIGHTS: SJ 5, RSL 0
The Quakes led 1-0 after 18 minutes through the first of Chris Wondolowski’s three goals on the evening, and they had control of the match from well before that. Wondolowski almost scored as early as four minutes into the action, and with a little more luck, he might have had his hat trick before intermission.
“In the first half, we had a lot of chances, and to be honest, for myself, I felt like I could of put a couple [more] away,” Wondolowski said. “I didn’t, and kind of left the door open, but we came in at halftime and said, ‘We need to finish this game.’”
They did so not just with the flurry of late goals – from Alan Gordon in the 63rd, Wondolowski in the 72nd, Dawkins in the 79th and Wondolowski again in the 80th – but with a suffocating defense that provided a second straight shutout after not posting one since March 31.
Since getting Victor Bernardez back from injury last month after the club’s 3 1/2-week long break for international and US Open Cup dates, the Quakes have been able to use the same back line – Justin Morrow, Jason Hernandez, Bernardez and Steven Beitashour, going from left to right – for six consecutive matches.
That’s helped breed the kind of comfort level that San Jose enjoyed at the season’s beginning, when they opened with three shutouts in their first four matches and didn’t allow a goal in the run of play for 409 minutes.
“We are starting to hit our stride,” Hernandez said. “Now that we are healthy, we are finding some cohesiveness and it’s starting to show. I liked our performance in Dallas [a scoreless tie last weekend] and I liked this one even better.”
After of grabbing Fabian Espindola’s 14th-minute shot from an extremely tight angle, Jon Busch didn’t have to make another save all night, prompting the Quakes goalkeeper to call himself “pretty much a spectator” – albeit one with a sweet field-level view.
“I really felt good about it,” Yallop said. “I thought we bossed everything. I thought we were in charge of everything in the match, and I didn’t feel worried at all.”
Teams hoping to track down San Jose in the Supporters’ Shield chase have to be worried at the Quakes’ ability to turn up the heat on their closest pursuers. San Jose moved four points clear of RSL with the victory and remained four points ahead of Eastern Conference leaders Sporting Kansas City.
“With the red card or without the red card, we were playing well regardless,” Busch said. “Who knows if it would have been five [goals], but we were playing very well, and I thought we were going to get a second. At the end of the day, it’s three points, no matter what the score is.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.