Sandy, Utah -- With no margin for error, no opportunity to let slip away, the Earthquakes began their playoff push with a road win Saturday night, topping Real Salt Lake 2-1.
Steven Lenhart scored two goals in a four-minute span in the first half, and the defense made it hold up as the Earthquakes (41 points) moved to within four points of a playoff spot with four games remaining. It was also MLS win No. 200 in franchise history.
"It was a big win for sure," interim coach Mark Watson said. "We knew we maybe had to be perfect and win the rest of our games. I thought the effort and the commitment the players put in was fantastic."
Lenhart's winner came on a free kick from Shea Salinas in the 21st minute -- just two minutes after Real Salt Lake's Javier Morales had evened the score.
Salinas saw Lenhart open, running toward the goal, and delivered the ball in the right place.
"I think he heads the ball harder than I shoot it," Salinas said of Lenhart, who recorded the sixth career multigoal game of his career. "It's pretty impressive."
It was a big win, considering the environment into which the Quakes entered. Real Salt Lake is tied for second in the chase for the Supporter's Shield, an honor the Quakes claimed a season ago.
The Quakes also had won just once in 14 previous road games and had struggled scoring goals in recent weeks. Saturday marked just the second time in seven league matches they scored more than one goal.
"A win like that has eluded us all season, so to get it at this point is really big for us," midfielder Sam Cronin said. "He (Lenhart) was huge for us tonight, but we're going to need everyone to step up for us down the stretch."
Lenhart followed each of his goals -- the first coming on a cross from Cordell Cato in the 18th minute -- with a leap and fist pump in the air that rankled the sellout crowd. He left the field in stoppage time to a chorus of boos.
The forward hadn't scored since July 27 and had two goals entering the evening. He let his actions speak for themselves, though, as he declined to speak after the game.
"I thought Steven was fantastic tonight," Watson said. "The goals were excellent. He's very brave, he's a powerful guy and attacks everything 100 percent. Two great finishes, but I thought the things he did throughout the game were good. He worked hard and battled for everything."
Quakes goalkeeper Jon Busch was pressured but not tested. He made two saves, and the hosts repeatedly failed to connect on crosses into the goal box. Real Salt Lake lost at home for just the third time this season.
The Quakes will look to go back-to-back on the road when they play at Chivas USA on Sept. 29.
Earthquakes (11-11-8) at Chivas USA (6-16-8), 8 p.m. CSNCA