By TYLER GRAY
SANDY, Utah. – The San Jose Earthquakes might not be out of the playoff race just yet.
In a three-minute span in the first half, the Earthquakes and Real Salt Lake traded three goals, with Steven Lenhart scoring first and third to put the Earthquakes up, 2-1, after 21 minutes. Even though RSL midfielder Javier Morales equalized in between, Lenhart’s brace was enough for the Earthquakes to sneak out of Rio Tinto Stadium with the three points.
It was a win that put the Earthquakes within striking distance of a playoff berth, sitting just four points out of the final playoff spot. The result was the type of victory that midfielder Sam Cronin said had “eluded” the Earthquakes all season.
The first goal of the night came completely against the run of play in the 18th minute. Earthquakes midfielder Cordell Cato sent in a ball into the box where Lenhart was waiting for a chance on goal. Sloppy marking by RSL made it too easy for the curly-haired forward who rose up and slotted it past Rimando.
Only one minute later, RSL provided a response. Club captain Kyle Beckerman sent corner kick into the box and the Earthquakes left Morales wide open, leading the Argentine to easily put a foot to the ball for a goal, leveling the match at 1-1.
The match swung wildly back in the visitors’ favor when Lenhart scored his brace, seemingly seconds after RSL had equalized.
Shea Salinas sent a free kick into the box and Lenhart once again found himself open to head past Rimando for a second time from almost exactly the same spot, taking the lead for good in the 21st minute.
Lenhart’s coach, Mark Watson gushed about the forward and said that although Lenhart doubled his season’s goal-scoring tally on Saturday, Lenhart deserves credit for all the work he does off the ball.
“Two great finishes but I thought the things he did throughout the game were good,” Watson said to reporters after the match. “He worked hard. He battled for everything. Lenny always gives you 100 percent, it was no different tonight.”
Watson felt that, coming into this match, the Earthquakes playoff hopes were dim but said that tonight’s win is a huge step in the right direction.
“It was a big win for sure. We knew, just looking at the standings and the games remaining, that we maybe had to be perfect on the way in,” Watson said. “So we knew it was going to be a tough night, but I thought the way we approached the game and I thought the effort and commitment the players put in were fantastic.”
San Jose is not out of it yet and Cronin is confident that the team will do whatever it takes till the very end.
“We’re gonna keep going,” said Cronin. “We’re confident we can win every game. The most important thing is Chivas next week; take care of business and then move onto the next.”
Here are the game highlights: