After the club’s third 2-0-0 start to a season, Real Salt Lake had the opportunity on a rainy and windy Friday night to go 3-0-0 for the first time since 2011 and the second time in the history of the club.
Standing in the way of this potentially historic milestone for RSL was the San Jose Earthquakes and its high-powered attack that through its first three games had found itself in a three-way tie for a league-high eight goals scored. After losing their first game of the season, the Earthquakes bounced back to win their last two games by a combined margin of five goals.
Following yet another spectacular goal from striker Rubio Rubin that gave RSL the 1-0 lead heading into halftime, it seemed like Real Salt Lake was, in fact, headed for a historic start to the season. San Jose came into the second half looking more threatening, but for the first 37 minutes of the final half it still felt like the game was trending in favor of Real Salt Lake.
But in the 82nd minute, San Jose forward Chris Wondolowski — a player RSL fans have become very familiar with over the course of his MLS career — kicked a rebounded ball into the back of the net off of a David Ochoa save, tying the game at 1-1 and driving a dagger into the hearts of RSL supporters.
Just four minutes later, Wondolowski twisted the dagger by heading a San Jose cross into the box into the back of RSL’s net. The goal would be the last of the game as San Jose took home the win by a score of 2-1.
RSL moved to 2-0-1 on the year, but still sits in the No. 3 spot of the Western Conference standings through its first three games — a much higher position than some may have expected just three games into the season.
Real Salt Lake will remain at home for its next game against Nashville on Saturday, May 15.
Here are three takeaways from RSL’s first loss of the season:
Rubin goes for a bike ride
The opening goal of the game from Real Salt Lake striker was a master class. Fullback Donny Toia tossed a throw-in deep into the box where Damir Kreilach used his head to direct the ball to the chest of Rubin, who executed a picture-perfect bicycle kick in front of goal that gave RSL the 1-0 lead.
WHAT. A. GOAL. 🤯@RubioRubin is outta this world 🌎 pic.twitter.com/nygsLMcC3s— Real Salt Lake (@realsaltlake) May 8, 2021
Head coach Freddy Juarez, who typically tries to contain himself when his side scores a goal, just couldn’t contain himself when he witnessed Rubin’s finish.
“I try to keep calm when we score goals, but I couldn’t help myself on that goal,” Juarez said. “Just a great effort, just a great goal. Those moments just make you a fan and you forget for a brief moment that you’re a coach. You have to applaud it.”
Juarez also said that it was a goal that deserved to be a winner, but in the end it wasn’t.
“It was one of those moments I had dreamed of all my life,” Rubin said of his finish. “I’m happy it went into the back of the net, but obviously gutted with the (final) result. It would’ve been better if we had won.”
The goal will likely be a contender for MLS goal of the season if it’s not forgotten about come the end of the year.
Punished by a few minutes of lost focus
San Jose’s two goals came within four minutes of each other, in the 82nd and 86th minutes. The first 80 minutes it really felt like RSL was the team that was in the driver’s seat and in control, but in those few minutes, Real Salt Lake lacked the concentration that it needed to close the game out.
Both of the goals came fairly easy as Wondolowski was mostly unmarked on both of the goals, which Juarez said was Real Salt Lake’s downfall.
“Our organization in the box has got to be man-oriented,” Juarez said. “We have to do a better job with that three or four minute lapse that we just didn’t deal with correctly.”
“They’re a good team, guys. They’re a very good team. Then you add a legend like (Chris) Wondolowski that gets one inch and he will not forgive in that situation. It’s a learning experience for us.” — RSL head coach Freddy Juarez
Although the possession was in favor of San Jose, most of the possession was in its defensive third as Real Salt Lake applied an energy-filled press throughout the game. The press arguably awarded RSL the better opportunities overall throughout the night.
Juarez said that if his players can continue to bring the type of energy they brought in the first 80 minutes, they will be a difficult team to beat going forward.
“We lost concentration in the last 10 minutes, but it is what it is. On to the next one and we have to stay positive,” Kreilach said after the game.
Wondolowski bullies RSL once again
Of course the goals came from none other than Chris Wondolowski, who has now scored more goals against Real Salt Lake than any other player in the club’s history. The two goals were his 11th and 12th goals against RSL in his career, and his 167th and 168th total goals of his career.
Wondolowski came on as a sub in the 73rd minute and wasted no time finding the back of the net, scoring nine minutes later.
When you combine Wondolowski’s goal-scoring repertoire with the fact that he was mostly unmarked in the box for each goal, RSL was asking for disaster.
“They’re a good team, guys. They’re a very good team,” Juarez said. “Then you add a legend like Wondolowski that gets one inch and he will not forgive in that situation. It’s a learning experience for us.”