SANDY — In a matter of four stunning days, Real Salt Lake has gone from the threshold of opening up a commanding lead in the Western Conference to second place.
It only has itself to blame.
Just a few days after gift-wrapping Los Angeles a victory with defensive mistakes, Real Salt Lake couldn't overcome its own poor finishing and more defensive shortcomings as San Jose escaped with a 2-1 victory at Rio Tinto Stadium to overtake RSL for the best record in MLS.
"For us to just give rivals that are close to us in the table points is unacceptable and we have to sort it out quickly," said Will Johnson.
Both San Jose goals were scored in the final 15 minutes, and both on set pieces.
MLS leading goal scorer Chris Wondolowski scored the game-winner off a throw-in in the 84th minute, the 12th time this season the Earthquakes have scored a goal in the final 15 minutes.
"We never give up, like the Goonies, never say die. It's fun to be a part of," said Wondolowski.
With the victory, San Jose leapt RSL into first-place in the Western Conference with 33 points, with RSL right behind with 32. The loss was RSL's third straight at Rio Tinto Stadium over all competitions.
After the match, a frustrated Jason Kreis said soccer can be maddening at times.
"I don't know of a time I've felt as mad as I do right now. Soccer can be a very cruel game. I think tonight was every indication of that," said Kreis. "We have a ton of chances and don't finish in their box and they create a couple of chances and finish them."
Whether it was Fabian Espindola's wasted 1v1 chance in the first half, or a doorstep opportunity by Johnson or Alvaro Saborio's deflected shot that was cleared off the line by Jason Hernandez, the finishing just wasn't there.
RSL generated 17 shots through the first 73 minutes, but had nothing to show for it.
"We didn't reward ourselves for all the momentum that we gained throughout the match. If we had done that I think it would be completely different," said Kreis.
After absorbing waves of pressure, opportunistic San Jose found the breakthrough it was looking for in the 75th minute as Alan Gordon slipped in behind Nat Borchers on a free kick and headed the ball past Rimando. Borchers hesitated for a split second on the play, and Gordon made him pay.
Just four minutes after falling behind, Javier Morales leveled the score at 1-1 with a superb curling free kick that sailed just over San Jose's wall and under the crossbar.
The celebration was short-lived for Morales, who was making his first start since May 9.
In the 84th minute, San Jose regained the lead on another set-piece defensive breakdown. Gordon was in perfect position to get a head on Justin Morrow's deep throw-in, flicking it in the path of Wondolowski who redirected it past Rimando for the winner.
Despite nearly 10 minutes of action remaining, RSL didn't generate a shot the rest of the game.
For Real Salt Lake, the loss was equally as frustrating as Wednesday's loss to the struggling L.A. Galaxy.
"We controlled the game, both games we had full control and weren't able to even get a point out of so it's tough," said Borchers.
RSL's two best chances to grab the 1-0 lead came during a four-minute flurry midway through the second half.
Johnson missed a golden opportunity in the 58th minute when he hesitated to pull the trigger on a close-range shot, instead choosing to try and dribble around San Jose keeper Jon Busch. In the split second it took to create space to shoot, San Jose's Hernandez closed Johnson down and blocked his shot. Morales' rebound was blocked as well.
Four minutes later Morales had another rebound opportunity, but his curling shot sailed just over the crossbar.
Wondolowski was the first to admit San Jose got a bit lucky walking away with all three points.
"To be honest, I thought we were a little fortunate. It is what it is, we'll take it, it's part of the game," he said.
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