Real Salt Lake 1-2 San Jose Earthquakes: Lessons Atop the Western Conference

San Jose Earthquakes vs Columbus Crew (Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports)
San Jose Earthquakes vs Columbus Crew (Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports) /

If you are reading this article at the end of MLS Matchweek 4, there may be some confusion. San Jose Earthquakes fans don’t get to enjoy being this high up the table in the Western Conference too often. Following their 2-1 victory over Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto Stadium, the math checks out! Although there isn’t a way to “stop the count”, there are some lessons both sides can take away from this game going into their next fixtures.

1: Real Salt Lake’s Find Solidity in Post-Beckerman/Rimando Era

In a conference headlined by Cascadia and El Trafico rivals, Real Salt Lake appeared to have their work cut out for them to compete against the likes of Colorado Rapids and FC Dallas for one of the lower playoff seedings. Club and MLS legends Nick Rimando and Kyle Beckerman’s retirements would also leave some voids, along with Luke Mulholland and Nehum Onuoha also calling time on their careers. So far this season, Freddy Juarez’s core of reliable players includes Albert Rusnak and Damir Kreilach dangerous as ever, 20-year-old goalkeeper Emi Ochoa, and former San Diego Loyal and USMNT striker Rubio Rubin. Rubin won’t score bicycle kick goals every game but he’s off to a good start in Utah, to the extent that when Bobby Wood arrives from Hamburger this summer, he’s not guaranteed a start. Competition for places can only be a good thing. Their next game comes Saturday, May 15 hosting Nashville SC which should be another good test.

2: From Cade to Chris, San Jose’s Attack Has Multiple Heroes

This game was this season’s first episode of the Wondo Show, one of MLS’s longest-running programs. More of the David Letterman later show variety, Chris Wondolowski did his damage in the 83rd and the 87th minutes off the bench. The first goal was typical of how most Major League Soccer fans remember the league’s all-time leading goal scorer: he was in the right place at the right time to cash in on Carlos Fierro’s saved shot. Luck is a factor, but at that rate he’d fare well in the casinos. He has pure striker positioning instincts and combined with his energy off the bench even at 38 years old, he’s a valuable part of the 2021 San Jose Earthquakes. This season so far, it hasn’t been just Wondo: Cade Cowell, Cristian Espinoza, and Carlos Fierro have all stepped up while Chofis Lopez is finding his rhythm under Matias Almeyda. In order to compete against the likes of Seattle Sounders, who the Quakes play Wednesday, May 12, it takes an attack force, not just one hero.

3: Room for Improvement Defensively

This may sound nitpicky, but through four games in this fledgling seasons, San Jose Earthquakes have yet to keep a clean sheet. Marcos Lopez missed one game and Oswaldo Alanis missed a couple partially due to injuries, but the Quakes will not remain top or even near top of the Western Conference without a clean sheet at some point. Given their record against the Sounders in 2020, I would not put money on their first clean sheet of the season coming in their next match. In the absence of a clean sheet, Tanner Beason has looked confident enough with his extended playing time, while Florian Jungwirth has been solid when he’s not doing his best Draymond Green impression and putting himself at risk of getting booked. An area the Quakes won’t be looking to bolster in the summer is fullback, where behind Marcos Lopez and Tommy Thompson Almeyda can rely on Paul Marie (who scored a great goal in the loss to Houston Dynamo) and Luciano Abecasis.