COMMERCE CITY, Colo. -- The Earthquakes were able to man-up for interim coach Mark Watson.
In Watson's first league match since the franchise parted ways with two-time MLS coach of the year Frank Yallop, the Quakes took advantage of an early goal from Steven Lenhart and a red card issued to Colorado's Atiba Harris in the 18th minute during a 2-1 victory over the Rapids on Saturday night at Dick's Sporting Goods Park.
The Quakes (4-6-6), who had been outscored 10-1 in their previous five games and were 0-2-5 on the road this season, delivered a much-needed midseason win for Watson in his head coaching debut.
"(Watson) definitely added a little different mentality and things of that nature. It's a great mix," team captain Chris Wondolowski said after San Jose escaped Colorado with three points. "He has done a great job of coming in here and commanding our locker room. All of the guys have bought in."
The visitors were the aggressors and seized the lead on Lenhart's first goal of the season in the 11th minute. San Jose is now 88-9-26 since 2001 when scoring the first goal.
Moments later Harris was ejected for a dangerous tackle of Alan Gordon while the San Jose forward was on the ground.
In addition to the red card, the referee handed out five yellows (four to San Jose players) during the chippy match. Watson did not receive a congratulatory handshake from Colorado counterpart Oscar Pareja. Wondolowski had to be held back from Pareja by teammates. During the game, Watson aggressively kicked the ball at the referee.
"We'll keep that between us," Watson said when asked about his postgame exchange with Pareja. "I just said to (the referee), 'I reacted because I'm protecting my players. There's been a few bad tackles.' I thought he needed to do a better job of protecting our players. I reacted. I shouldn't have, but my motivation was to protect our players' safety."
Sam Cronin raced to a loose ball and burned Rapids goalkeeper Clinton Irwin, who had made a poorly timed charge, for a goal from just outside the box to make it 2-0 in the 52nd minute. Colorado, which had a six-game unbeaten streak snapped, kept things interesting when Brian Mullan's cross was headed into the net by Nathan Sturgis in the 67th minute.
Despite playing 10 on 11 for most of the match, the Rapids (5-5-5) had plenty of chances to score and finished with a 7-3 edge in shots on goal.
"I give full credit to Colorado. With 10 men I thought they were excellent," said Watson, who had been the assistant coach under Yallop. "They were very dangerous, and they had a lot of opportunities, especially in the second half. We had to fight and scratch and claw our way to get the three points."
Earthquakes (4-6-6) at D.C. United (1-11-3), 4 p.m., CSNCA