SANTA CLARA, Calif. - More than the fearsome weather conditions, it was poor finishing that put the biggest damper on the San Jose Earthquakes' opening night. Despite some very positive play against one of the league's best teams in Real Salt Lake, the Earthquakes missed a plethora of scoring chances and were sunk by a lone strike from Kyle Beckerman.
"[I'm] really, really upset for the guys not to get something out of that game because I thought we played great tonight," said Earthquakes head coach Frank Yallop.
The Earthquakes created at least three clear cut chances in the first 25 minutes, but neither Chris Wondolowski or Ryan Johnson could convert.
"Got to finish the two chances early we had in the first half, but all in all, the chances we had, we have to score at least one goal," added Yallop.
Particularly glaring was a miss from Wondolowski, who found himself wide open just yards from the goal line, but couldn't connect with a perfectly swung cross from Chris Leitch. Wondolowski wasn't ready to make any excuses, and asked if the driving wind played any part in the miss he said, "I would like to think so, but that's just all me, I gotta finish that."
While a lack of finishing certainly played a significant role in the Earthquakes' scoreless performance, the fourth consecutive time it's happened on opening day, equally important was a huge night from Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando. The Earthquakes managed to put 10 of their 14 shots on frame and Rimando came up equal to all of them.
"Everything we seemed to shoot was just in the reach of Rimando or it went wide, so one of those nights," explained Yallop.
In spite of the lack of goals, however, Earthquakes fans were treated to their first glimpses of three new acquisitions. Ellis McLoughlin, formerly a Hertha Berlin youth player, Simon Dawkins, just signed on loan from Tottenham, and Anthony Ampaipitakwong, a second round SuperDraft pick out of Akron, all featured off the substitutes' bench.
Particularly eye-catching was Dawkins, who made two electrifying runs from midfield after coming on, the first of which brought two great saves out of Rimando.
"When I was on the bench I was looking at the opportunity where I could sort of expose the defense and I thought maybe if I start running with the ball from midfield I could [cause problems]," Dawkins explained. "So that's what I did, and we had a few more chances, but we still didn't take them so it's disappointing."
While Dawkins is nominally an attacking midfielder and sat mostly behind the forward line, Yallop highlighted his possible role as a regular goalscorer.
"The big thing for us to get into Simon is being more dangerous around the goal," he explained. "We've only seen a little bit of him, but I think that if he becomes a little bit more selfish he could be good around a goal and be a goalscorer too."
Despite the disappointing standard of finishing, the performance on Saturday evening showed that the Earthquakes have brought together a good combination of hungry young players to augment the collection of veterans that drove the team's surprising run in 2010. From here on out, it's about turning the positives into points.
You can follow Nick Rosano for more Earthquakes and MLS chatter at @nicholasrosano
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