SANTA CLARA, Calif. (ABC 4 Sports) - The San Jose Earthquakes are no longer toothless when it comes to playing with a man advantage. And because of that, they can flash a toothy grin from atop the Western Conference standings.
Simon Dawkins and Chris Wondolowski scored in second-half injury time as the Quakes took advantage of two red cards to beat a nine-man Real Salt Lake 3-1 on Saturday.
The victory pushed San Jose (5-1-1) past RSL (5-3-0) and into first place atop the West for the first time since being refounded as an expansion team in 2008. It was the Earthquakes’ first win against RSL since July 3, 2009.
The result also gave San Jose head coach Frank Yallop his 100th MLS win.
Khari Stephenson put San Jose up in first-half injury time, but the Earthquakes needed the late heroics after Kyle Beckerman’s 53rd-minute equalizer threatened to let Real Salt Lake escape with a point — despite a 30th-minute red card to Fabián Espíndola, RSL’s leading scorer, and another in the 69th minute to star defender Jámison Olave.
Dawkins sent home a diving header off a right-wing cross from Steven Beitashour two minutes into a lengthy six minutes’ worth of stoppage time. It was the Englishman’s first goal of the season.
Wondolowski scored his league-leading eighth goal just a minute later off a short chip from Stephenson inside Real Salt Lake’s penalty box.
The goals were San Jose’s first with a man advantage since May 8, 2010, when they beat the New York Red Bulls 4-0. San Jose went 116 scoreless minutes over four matches playing a man up last season.
Espíndola was sent packing for a rash two-footed, studs-up challenge on San Jose midfielder Sam Cronin.
Olave was ejected after delivering a body block on the edge of the penalty box to Quakes forward Steven Lenhart, who was threatening to break away for a one-on-one versus RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando. Stephenson, who nearly scored on a 40-yard free kick late in the first half, pushed the ensuing set piece well over the crossbar.
Beckerman ignited the buildup to RSL’s equalizer, creating a turnover in midfield and quickly getting the ball back via Jonny Steele’s cutting pass off the left wing. Álvaro Saborío dummied the ball, allowing Beckerman a chance to run onto it, and the US national team member easily maneuvered past two San Jose defenders to roll home his second goal of the season from 14 yards out.
Stephenson snuck his own header past Rimando for his first goal of the season, rising to meet a curling cross from Beitashour. Rimando got a hand to the ball after it bounced off the turf but couldn’t keep it from dribbling into the back of the net.
The Quakes nearly broke on top in the 22nd minute, when Dawkins intercepted a soft pass from Rimando off his own line. Stephenson jumped on the loose ball in the left side of RSL’s penalty box, but his shot from 13 yards deflected off Olave and crashed harmlessly off the near post.
Real Salt Lake welcomed Javier Morales back to the starting lineup after the Argentine playmaker missed two matches due to a strained right hamstring. Luis Gil and Sebastian Velasquez made way in the midfield for Morales and Steele, who was making just his second MLS start. It was Gil’s first time on the bench this year, having started RSL’s first seven league matches.
San Jose made four changes, all caused by injury or suspension. With Víctor Bernárdez (sprained left knee ligament) and Ramiro Corrales (right calf problem) unavailable on the back line, the Quakes debuted two new starters in the middle: Jason Hernandez and Ike Opara. Justin Morrow slid from center back to cover Corrales’ left back spot.
On the wings, the Quakes replaced Shea Salinas (broken left collarbone) and Márvin Chávez (one-game suspension) with Dawkins on the left and Rafael Baca on the right. Tressor Moreno made his second MLS start in Baca’s usual home in the center of San Jose’s attack.
Real Salt Lake continue a three-games-in-eight-days stretch at FC Dallas on Wednesday.
San Jose will defend their position next weekend at Philadelphia.