CARSON, Calif. — When David Beckham put a dazzling pass off Edson Buddle's forehead and into the net, the Los Angeles Galaxy appeared to be picking up right where they left off last season in their dominant run to the MLS title.
About 20 disastrous minutes later, Beckham and his Galaxy realized nothing will be easy about repeating their championship run.
Javier Morales scored Real Salt Lake's go-ahead goal in the 80th minute after a tying own-goal by Los Angeles' Sean Franklin, and Fabian Espindola added another late score in a 3-1 victory that spoiled the Galaxy's celebratory season opener Saturday night.
Before the game, fans from the Galaxy's top supporters groups pulled down two black curtains in the rafters above the south end of the pitch, unveiling Los Angeles' banners honoring the club's second straight Supporters' Shield and its third MLS Cup championship. But the celebration was over after Salt Lake handed the Galaxy their first home loss in 26 matches since Nov. 14, 2010.
Beckham's service on Buddle's 71st-minute goal was the most impressive moment of the start of the English superstar's sixth season with the Galaxy, who re-signed him to a two-year contract. He was greeted with a pregame standing ovation at Home Depot Center from a crowd holding signs reading "Welcome back Beckham!" and "L.A. Loves You, David!"
"I saw a few welcome-back signs out there, but I didn't know I'd gone," said Beckham, who lives in Los Angeles mostly year-round now.
Buddle's goal put the Galaxy ahead, but they fell apart moments later, with Franklin's accidental deflection of Sebastian Velasquez's pass leading to two more Real goals, all in a 12-minute span.
Coach Bruce Arena blamed himself for fielding a lineup of tired players after Los Angeles' difficult CONCACAF Champions League match in Toronto on Wednesday.
"I think we all felt good going into the game, but the fatigue of playing a hard game on turf and then traveling back took its toll," Beckham said. "I thought we had quite a few chances to win it, but there were a few mistakes. We'll be OK."
Indeed, the Galaxy must take a long-term view to survive a tough early schedule. They drew with Toronto FC 2-2 three days ago on the unforgiving artificial turf of Rogers Centre, but only after overcoming an early 2-0 deficit by playing several key players all 90 minutes.
Arena said the Galaxy's busy first week amounted to a "very poor job on behalf of the league in terms of scheduling."
"I should have used fresher bodies," Arena said. "We hit the wall and just made mistakes attributable to fatigue. At this time of year, players aren't fit to play that much."
Salt Lake, which lost to Los Angeles last season in the Western Conference final, took charge after Franklin's own-goal. Morales capitalized on a miscommunication in Los Angeles' defense to score the winner, banging a short shot past Josh Saunders in the box. Espindola got another in the 85th minute on the run, celebrating in front of Real's small band of traveling supporters.
Real Salt Lake also begins the season with high expectations after falling one game short of the MLS Cup last season, but they opened without elite defender Nat Borchers, who's still recovering from offseason surgery. Top goal-scorer Alvaro Saborio and Morales, who also had surgery, came on as substitutes.
Buddle immediately scored in his return after a year away in Germany's second division, while Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane also played aggressive games for Los Angeles. But the Galaxy's stars quickly learned that even Home Depot Center isn't sacrosanct after they didn't lose here all season long in 2011, capped by their ostensibly neutral-site victory in the MLS Cup.1 comment on this story
"To go on a run like that when you're unbeaten at home for that long, you have to have some things go your way," Donovan said. "Tonight, some things just went against us. These first few games are about recovery and getting ready to go. We have to get whatever rest we can and get ready."
Los Angeles was MLS' best defensive team last year, but has already yielded five goals in two matches this week. Tommy Meyer, the Galaxy's rookie first-round pick, took Omar Gonzalez's spot in the middle of the defense. Gonzalez, the reigning MLS Defender of the Year, is out indefinitely after surgery on his left knee.