Sandy • Damir Kreilach was plenty frustrated.
In the span of just a few minutes, he’d had two increasingly solid chances at a goal in a game that was scoreless. First was a shot that went wide, followed by a shot that was deflected at the last second. After the second attempt, the Real Salt Lake midfielder kicked his right foot through the air in disgust.
But after a ball squirted away from the penalty box and to the feet of forward Brooks Lennon in the 75th minute, Kreilach’s next opportunity didn’t go to waste. Lennon floated a cross into the box and Kreilach headed it in, giving RSL the 1-0 lead — and eventual win — over the San Jose Earthquakes on Wednesday at Rio Tinto Stadium in front of 17,196 fans.
“It was frustrating because I missed a couple of chances before that chance,” Kreilach said. “Luckily it was in.”
Kreilach had five of Salt Lake’s 12 total shots. Three of them were on target, representing half of RSL’s shots in that category. His first good opportunity came on a similar sequence in the 35th minute when Lennon crossed it to him and he put a header on target. But that shot was saved by Earthquakes goalkeeper Daniel Vega, who tallied five saves.
RSL played without four of the nine players who were missing due to international duty over the previous 10 days. Aaron Herrera, Justen Glad and Brooks Lennon started, while Jefferson Savarino and Sebastian Saucedo came off the bench and played about 30 minutes.
The four homegrown players who were recently with the United States Men’s National Team’s Under-23 squad practiced Tuesday, but it was unclear whether anyone else would be back. Assistant coach Tyrone Marshall said Savarino played a game in Tampa, Florida, with the Venezuelan national team and called afterward to say he wanted to play Wednesday.
“Those are types of guys that we want, attitude that we need, from our international players,” Marshall said.
In a first half that induced more sleepiness than excitement, neither team looked to have any sort of rhythm or cohesion. Marshall said RSL came out on the back foot. Defender Nedum Onuoha said the reason for that was San Jose’s relentless man-to-man defensive scheme.
“They would literally follow you wherever you went,” Onuoha said of the first half. “So we competed for as much as we could in the first half and then came in at halftime, [interim coach] Freddy [Juarez] spoke to us, we spoke amongst ourselves, and tweaked it. And in the second half it felt a lot better.”
RSL turned the up the jets in the second half, particular after the 60-minute mark. Kreilach was involved in most of that action. But Saucedo also got into the mix when he drew a foul near the top of the 18-yard box. His free kick, which was on target, was saved by Vega.
The last time these two teams played each other, it was in San Jose. What looked like a draw suddenly turned into a loss for RSL in the span of just a few seconds. But with Wednesday’s win, RSL beat the Earthquakes for the first time since 2017.