By ADAM SERRANO
CARSON, Calif. — Three goals in the second half proved the difference as Real Salt Lake spoiled the Los Angeles Galaxy's MLS Cup banner unveiling, handing the Galaxy their first loss at home in more than a year.
Three unanswered goals from RSL, including tallies from Javier Morales and Fabian Espindola, helped stun the Galaxy, who opened the scoring on an Edson Buddle strike. Defensive miscues doomed the Galaxy though, helping RSL post a 3-1 victory at Home Depot Center on Saturday night. RSL's victory snapped a Galaxy 25-game Home Depot Center unbeaten streak that stretched from the 2010 Western Conference Final against FC Dallas.
Just three days after a hard fought CONCACAF Champions League in Toronto, Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena regretted starting much of his first choice lineup — including Robbie Keane, Edson Buddle, Landon Donovan and David Beckham — in the home opener.
"We were obviously a tired team tonight, I thought we still could have won this game and I think that this loss is on me. It's my fault, I think I should have used fresher bodies," Arena told reporters after the match. "We hit the wall and made mistakes that are attributed to fatigue. I think that the travel and two games this week added up to being a pretty tired team over the last 24 minutes and it cost us the game. I take full responsibility for that."
The Galaxy made just two changes from the squad that went 90 minutes at the Rogers Centre opting for Marcelo Sarvas in midfielder over Juninho and rookie Tommy Meyer over Andrew Boyens in central defense. From the start, RSL controlled wide stretches of the match, despite not having Alvaro Saborio and Morales in the starting lineup due to injury issues.
Each team peppered the opposition's net and traded scoring opportunities midway through the first half with Mike Magee and Paulo Junior both forcing saves from the opposing goalkeepers. Arguably the finest opportunity belonged to Sarvas' in the 44th minute as the Brazilian midfielder launched a shot from 35 yards out that bounced off the cross bar before bouncing down, but not over the line.
"It was a little strange, I thought maybe they had a little bit better of the ball but we had some great chances. I thought that we were deservatedly up a goal and then the next thing that I knew, they were up 3-1," said Donovan. "It was a little bit of a fluky game and we weren't great in certain parts, but I think that we probably could have realistically scored six or seven tonight."
As the second half began, the Galaxy began to control the match forcing RSL head coach Jason Kreis to bring on Morales and Saborio into the match. It would be the Galaxy that struck first when Beckham launched a pinpoint cross from the right side to the head of Buddle, whose shot went past Nick Rimando.
Holding 1-0 leads had been a source of pride for the Galaxy in 2011, but just two minutes after Buddle's strike, a failed clearance by Sean Franklin on a Sebastian Velasquez cross resulted in an own goal. In the 80th minute, Morales gave RSL the lead after confusion in the box allowed the ball to the midfielder, who poked past a diving Josh Saunders. Los Angeles attempted to find the equalizer, but yet another defensive lapse in the 85th allowed Fabian Espindola to tally a third for RSL.
"I don't think that anyone is going to doubt the quality of a Morales or a Saborio. Even right now the only doubts about them are their fitness, but I'm not going to take anything away from the guys that were ou there for the sixty minutes," said Kreis. "I really felt that we were the team that was controlling the tempo of the match. I know that LA had some fantastic chances to score…but really I felt that we were the team that was controlling the tempo so I'm very, very pleased with everyone's contributions."
RSL now return to Rio Tinto Stadium for their home opener against the New York Red Bulls on March 17th. Meanwhile, the Galaxy return to action Wednesday when they face Toronto FC at Home Depot Center in the second leg of their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal series. The Galaxy tied Toronto, 2-2, last Wednesday in Toronto.
After a difficult loss at home and their decisive Champions League fixture looming, the Galaxy hope to put their result against RSL behind them
"We got a game on Wednesday, so we'll take tomorrow off and get rested and be ready to play," said defender AJ DeLaGarza. "This is one of those [games] that you don't want to watch again. "