SAN JOSE, Calif. — Real Salt Lake's players and coaches talked all preseason about how they wanted to carry over the momentum from last season's playoff run to the MLS Cup into the 2010 regular season. If the club's 3-0 win over the San Jose Earthquakes Saturday evening at Buck Shaw Stadium is any indication — they have.
"We wanted to come out here and establish a foundation of what we are going to be like on the road," said coach Jason Kreis. "This happens to be a very difficult team to play against, and one of our biggest goals tonight was to get a shutout, so we did that. We answered the questions that I posed to the players — they answered them."
Real midfielder Javier Morales played 2,076 minutes during the 2009 regular season, scoring one goal. It took him only 14 minutes of the season opener to equal that mark.
Kyle Beckerman tried to chip the ball over a San Jose defender and continue down the left side. Instead, the ball deflected off the sliding defender and bounced toward Morales. From about 30 yards, he timed a volley perfectly, striking it to the upper-right corner in what may already be a goal-of-the-year candidate.
"It wasn't one of those goals you think about. You just get it and you execute, you just finish," Morales said through a Spanish translator. He added that he knew the shot would find the back of the net the second it left his foot.
In the 27th minute, Real all but iced the game with an insurance goal. Sure, coaches talk about how a 2-0 lead is the most dangerous in soccer, but Real didn't surrender a two-goal lead all last season. It wasn't about to begin the defense of its title by giving one up now.
Fabian Espindola was the benefactor of a beautifully timed pass from Morales that beat the Quakes' attempt at an offside trap. Espindola raced onto a bouncing through ball from Morales and chipped it past the onrushing keeper and Real carried the 2-0 lead into the half.
Morales doubled his goal output of 2009 in the 54th minute with a world-class free kick. Espindola was dragged down from behind just outside the penalty area by San Jose's Chris Leitch, who was ejected with a red card for the foul. Morales took the kick from just outside the 18-yard box on the left side. His bending kick couldn't have been placed any more perfectly in the upper-right "V" for his second tally of the night.
"The two goals in the first half were special goals, and then the third goal was pretty nice as well," said Kreis. "For me, the individual plays were really, really nice. Obviously the game was affected as well by the ejection. A lot of things went our way."
One of the things that certainly carried over from last season was the outstanding play in goal from Nick Rimando. He posted nine shutouts last season, and Saturday's blank sheet was the 61st of his career, good for fifth all-time in MLS. In the 23rd minute he made what could have been the play of the game. Forward Ryan Johnson broke behind the Real defense for a one-on-one chance. Rimando raced to meet Johnson and dove to his right to deflect a shot attempt. Instead of San Jose pulling even and grabbing the momentum, RSL scored just four minutes later.
"Nick made a couple of really important saves for us tonight," said Kreis. "It's one of those things. Soccer is such a cool game, if Nick doesn't make that save, or Jamison (Olave) doesn't make that play (a sliding stop in the 26th minute), you could get a completely different result."
But they did make those plays.
And Real got the result it wanted.
The team, however, does not have much time to savor the victory. With a schedule fitting for defending champs, Real travels to play at the Houston Dynamo on Thursday for ESPN2's national broadcast.