HOUSTON — On a night when Real Salt Lake had hoped to stake its claim as a new force in the Western Conference, the Houston Dynamo scored a victory for the old guard.

The two-time defending MLS Cup champions shredded the RSL defense, erasing a pair of deficits en route to a 4-3 triumph at Robertson Stadium. With the result, Houston overtook Salt Lake for first place.

"We definitely wanted to get three points and make a statement that we're for real," RSL midfielder Kyle Beckerman said. "We wanted to come down and really put it to them, but they're a good team and they play really good in Houston in this heat. ... I definitely think everyone would like another crack at them."

With Ian Joy, Tony Beltran and Jamison Olave out due to either injury or suspension, RSL fielded a patchwork defense. Rookie David Horst, making his MLS debut, started at center back. The high-powered Dynamo took full advantage of RSL's absences, scoring four times in the first half.

"I really felt like almost every time they had the ball, I felt they had a chance to score, which is uncharacteristic for our team," RSL coach Jason Kreis said. "So we'll need to go back this week and spend some time analyzing that and correcting it, but what we did when we had the ball was really good."

Indeed, RSL (which hadn't lost since June 28) looked extremely dangerous on the attack.

In the third minute, Robbie Findley's pass sprung Yura Movsisyan, who knocked a left-footed shot into the net for his first goal of the season.

Salt Lake (7-7-6) struggled to hold possession in its own end, however, and the Dynamo (7-4-8) capitalized in the 16th minute. From the left flank, Brad Davis chipped the ball ahead to Brian Mullan, who beat a flat-footed RSL backline (which seemed to expect an offside call), then deked goalkeeper Nick Rimando before firing into an open net.

RSL reclaimed the lead against the run of play in the 25th minute. After Findley created another chance for Movsisyan, Houston tried to boot the ball downfield, but the clearance deflected off a Dynamo defender and fell to Javier Morales, who drilled a low shot inside the right post for his fourth goal, making it 2-1.

Houston needed only four minutes to respond. Craig Waibel played the ball to Mullan on the right flank, and the midfielder cut it back to Brian Ching, whose left-footed rocket snuck inside the left post.

The Dynamo took the lead in the 35th minute when Ricardo Clark unleashed a wicked shot from over 30 yards that bent away from Rimando, who couldn't keep it out of the upper left corner.

The RSL defense suffered another costly breakdown in the 42nd minute, when Ching settled a Davis cross and cut the ball back to a wide-open Nate Jaqua, who slipped it past Rimando to make it 4-2. A pair of Chris Wingert crosses gave RSL hope early in the second half, but Findley pushed one header right at goalkeeper Pat Onstad and sent another one way over the bar.

"I think I could have done better with it," Findley said of the second chance.

Clint Mathis, whom RSL reacquired on Thursday, made his debut as a 61st-minute substitute for Andy Williams.

"For me, he looked like he was fatigued before the end of the match, so that's not a good sign, and we've got to continue to focus on that (fitness) first and foremost," Kreis said.

Salt Lake halved the deficit in the 80th minute, when Morales and Findley combined to set up Kenny Deuchar for his third goal of the season.