Santa Clara, Calif. • San Jose’s motto, so entrenched in the club, is “Never say die.”
And for every available second of Saturday’s matchup between Real Salt Lake and the San Jose Earthquakes, the sides went after one another, leaving no doubt that the match between Western Conference rivals would produce thrilling moment after thrilling moment.
And as the two familiar sides traded goals, fouls and threatening plays, it came down to the final seconds of a back-and-forth night that ultimately resulted in a hectic 3-3 draw at Buck Shaw Stadium. Clinging to a 3-2 lead in the waning moments of the match, RSL couldn’t preserve three points as San Jose defender Victor Bernardez buried a loose ball in the box — his second goal of the match — to earn a point for the Quakes and leave RSL thinking about two missed points.
“It feels like a loss right now,” said Real Salt Lake coach Jeff Cassar, “but it’s a tie on the road against a very difficult team.”
Down 3-1, San Jose pulled one back in the 75th minute when Bernardez flicked a header to the far post, to bring the home team within one. Unlike last week’s Major League Soccer season-opening win against the L.A. Galaxy, RSL had to respond to the physicality of the Earthquakes, most noticeably on set-piece opportunities, of which the Earthquakes notched each of their first two goals.
“I think if we don’t give them any fouls and free kicks, and we defend set-plays well, it’s a different game,” Cassar said. “But we have some stuff to work on and it’s early in the year. I’m just really proud of the guys — four points out of two road games — I’m super pleased with that.”
San Jose nearly equalized in the 89th minute when forward Steven Lenhart’s unmarked header six yards from goal sailed just wide of the post. But four minutes into stoppage time and on their very last leg, the Earthquakes capitalized off a final cross into the box when Bernardez notched his second goal of the match, putting a loose ball in the box into the near post.
“Just needed to do a little bit of a better job for another 10 seconds,” said defender Chris Wingert.
San Jose coach Mark Watson threw all of his attacking options at RSL in the last 15 minutes, going with three defenders and, at times, three or four forwards to press the RSL back line.
“I think [the Earthquakes] should play like that the whole 90 minutes,” joked Nick Rimando.
San Jose took a very early lead on a goal by striker Chris Wondolowski. RSL was pressed to respond on the road. It did so, rattling off three first-half goals in Santa Clara.
Captain Kyle Beckerman breathed life into his side five minutes after RSL went down in the early going, rifling a 20-yard, left-footed volley that pinged inside the post. But Joao Plata did one better in the 32nd minute when the young forward scored his second goal in as many games, dancing through the San Jose defense after a combination play with Luis Gil left the shifty forward with room to maneuver, and he slotted home the goal.
RSL’s final goal of the night came from Luke Mulholland, making his first MLS start. A week after having what looked to be his first MLS goal whistled offside at L.A., Mulholland buried his only chance of the evening, cleaning up a deflected save by San Jose keeper Jon Busch.
But, living up to their reputation, the Earthquakes didn’t die. Four days after scoring a stoppage-time equalizer against Mexican club Toluca in its CONCACAF Champions League match to salvage a 1-1 draw, San Jose took RSL to the wire, keeping the visitors on their heels throughout the night with dangerous chance after dangerous chance.
And eventually, the Quakes pounced.
The last 15 minutes of the match were nothing similar to the first 75 minutes, in which the teams sent wave after wave of wide-open attacks that left Rimando and Jon Busch as the last line of defense. The Earthquakes put the pressure on RSL and like they so often do, found a result in the waning moments at Buck Shaw Stadium.
Now with a win and a draw under its belt, RSL heads into week three of the MLS season preparing for its home opener against the L.A. Galaxy next Saturday afternoon at Rio Tinto Stadium.
“At the end of the day,” Rimando said, “I think everybody puts into perspective that four points in two games against two very good teams is acceptable, for sure.”
• San Jose defender Victor Bernardez scores two second-half goals, including one in stoppage time, to earn the Earthquakes a point.
• After going down 1-0, RSL responds with three consecutive goals from Kyle Beckerman, Joao Plata and Luke Mulholland.
• RSL opens Rio Tinto Stadium in 2014 with its first home match of the season against the L.A. Galaxy on Saturday, March 22, at 2 p.m.
RSL 3, San Jose 3
Real Sat Lake 3 0 — 3
San Jose 1 2 — 3
First half » 1, San Jose, Wondolowski 1 (Bernardez, Salinas), 6th minute. 2, Real Salt Lake, Beckerman 1 (Plata), 11th. 3, Real Salt Lake, Plata 2 (Gil), 32nd. 4, Real Salt Lake, Mulholland 1, 45th+.
Second half » 5, San Jose, Bernardez 1 (Salinas), 75th. 6, San Jose, Bernardez 2, 90th+.
Goalies » Real Salt Lake, Nick Rimando San Jose, Jon Busch.
Yellow Cards—Lenhart, San Jose, 9th Borchers, Real Salt Lake, 52nd Koval, San Jose, 77th Salinas, San Jose, 90th.
Referee—Jorge Luna Hernandez. Assistant Referees—Eugene Mednikov. Pedro Trejo. 4th Official—Miguel Panduro.
Attendance » 10,525 (10,526)
Real Salt Lake—Nick Rimando, Tony Beltran, Aaron Maund (Carlos Salcedo, 71st), Chris Wingert, Nat Borchers, Luke Mulholland (Cole Grossman, 69th), Ned Grabavoy, Luis Gil, Kyle Beckerman, Alvaro Saborio, Joao Plata (Jordan Allen, 82nd).
San Jose—Jon Busch, Shaun Francis, Jason Hernandez (Khari Stephenson, 67th), Victor Bernardez, Sam Cronin, Shea Salinas, Cordell Cato, Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi (JJ Koval, 63rd), Atiba Harris (Alan Gordon, 63rd), Chris Wondolowski, Steven Lenhart.