The San Jose Earthquakes dominated Real Salt Lake last season — or what few players RSL managed to keep on the field. After catching three red cards in two games in San Jose last year, RSL is hoping to keep a full team on the field when it opens the season Sunday night (8 p.m. MST, Ch. 30).
“A key for us this match is can we keep 11 players on the field to start with,” coach Jason Kreis said in the run-up to Sunday’s match, “because last year we couldn’t manage to do that at their place. If we can start there, that will be a decided improvement automatically.”
RSL saw Jamison Olave and Fabian Espindola sent off with red cards in a 3-1 loss at San Jose on April 21. Later in the season, the Earthquakes blasted RSL 5-0, scoring four of those goals after midfielder Kyle Beckerman was sent off in the 57th minute.
With three All-Stars gone — the casualties of offseason trades to relieve a strained salary cap — and injuries to veterans Javier Morales, Nat Borchers sand Chris Wingert to start the year, RSL general manager Garth Lagerwey said this year’s squad especially cannot afford to put itself at a disadvantage.
“Red cards are selfish,” he said. “You’re putting yourself in front of the team. We can’t afford with this group to do things like take dumb red cards, take yellow cards for dissent. We can’t do it. Our margin for error is diminished.”
• Both sides will be dealing with a number of injures in the opener.
RSL will be without defenders Chris Wingert (foot) and Nat Borchers (quad). Star midfielder Javier Morales (torn meniscus) is also out while working his way back from surgery. The Quakes, meanwhile, will be without strikers Alan Gordon (left foot) and Steven Lenhart (right knee), and defenders Steven Beitashour (sports hernia) and Marvin Chavez (right MCL sprain).
• This is the third time in four seasons RSL has kicked off a new season in San Jose. In 2010, Javier Morales scored two goals to push RSL to a 3-0 win. Midfielder Kyle Beckerman scored a goal in a rainstorm and goalkeeper Nick Rimando held off an earthquake rally to secure a 1-0 victory in 2011.
• RSL added some depth to its back line, signing former Columbus Crew defender Rich Balchan over the weekend. Balchan, a 24-year-old Indiana University product, has been training with RSL since Feb. 12.