SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Heading into their season-opening match Sunday, the San Jose Earthquakes’ most obvious point of defensive concern was at right back. Incumbent starter Steven Beitashour is still recovering from a second offseason surgery relating to a sports hernia, and first-choice replacement Dan Gargan had to pull himself out of Friday’s practice with a quadriceps strain.
But when Real Salt Lake and Álvaro Saborío finally broke through in the final 20 minutes for the pair of goals in a 2-0 victory over the Quakes, it was the team’s front-line center backs, Jason Hernandez and Víctor Bernárdez, who were most obviously victimized.
Hernandez couldn’t outrace Saborío to Joao Plata’s looping lead pass in the 71st minute, allowing the Costa Rican international to fire past Jon Busch from 17 yards. And Bernárdez lost vision on Saborío while RSL knocked around a dozen seemingly innocuous passes – innocuous, that is, until Kyle Beckerman made the final, incisive delivery to find Saborío free in the penalty area.
“In the second half, we had a couple poor defensive plays, and they punished us,” San Jose coach Frank Yallop said after the game. “That’s the sport. That’s the way it goes. As frustrating as it is, you’ve got to just deal with it and move on.”
The Quakes defenders knew coming into the game that in the short term, they’re being asked to raise their game to compensate for the injuries that have kept key pieces of last year’s record-setting offense off the field. And Busch said they’re looking forward to that challenge.
“We take a lot of pride, the defenders and myself,” Busch told MLSsoccer.com last week. “We take a lot of pride in defending well and giving our team an opportunity in each game, whether that’s get a shutout or keep the other team at one, whatever the circumstances are. We know what we need to do the first few weeks of the season.”
Unfortunately for San Jose, knowledge didn’t translate to 90 minutes’ worth of execution, and even though RSL only had three shots on goal before the 71st minute, the three they got after that were enough to put the game away.
“When I look back on it, I don’t think that we were necessarily in bad spots,” Hernandez said after the game. “I think we’re pretty well covered. It’s just a better touch and a better ball than our formation and our shape. Sometimes you’ve got to give credit to a good team and good players.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.