SANDY — Jason Kreis has talked a lot through the years — and even as recently as Real Salt Lake’s win over Seattle last month — about the importance of setting the tone early at home.
Against two-time defending MLS Cup champion Los Angeles on Saturday, a surprisingly disappointing effort in the opening 15 minutes put Real Salt Lake in a difficult spot it couldn’t recover from.
The Galaxy scored twice in the opening 13 minutes — the two fastest goals scored by visitors in Rio Tinto Stadium history — and the champs played solid defense the final 77 minutes on their way to an impressive 2-0 victory in front of 17,655.
“It’s going to be tough if you give them the first 20 minutes like we did. When we play at home we have to be ready in the beginning of the match,” said Javier Morales.
The loss, which drops RSL into fourth place in the Western Conference, particularly stings because Los Angeles certainly didn’t play its strongest lineup. Five regulars, including Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane, didn’t suit up for the Galaxy, and Kreis believes his players didn’t come entirely focused as a result.
“Our guys have had a tendency over the past to let down when they think we’re playing a team that’s weaker than them, and tonight they got shown that that team isn’t weaker than we are. Their 11 was better than our 11,” said Kreis.
Nat Borchers was quick to point out that confidence is a good thing — the effort was just sloppy early on.
Just six minutes into the match, Mike Magee put the Galaxy ahead 1-0, heading a ball past Nick Rimando after finding the slightest bit of space between RSL defenders Tony Beltran and Borchers.
Seven minutes later, Beltran was again the last defender beat as Charlie Chugg doubled L.A.’s advantage. The rookie slipped in behind Beltran following a cross from Hector Jimenez, and was just six yards from goal for the easy finish.
“To give up the first one is immature from a pretty mature group, but we can’t give away the second one 'cause that pretty much locks things down for them. They feel comfortable letting teams go at them. They have an organized backline,” said RSL's Ned Grabavoy.
L.A.’s bright start represented the two fastest goals conceded by Real Salt Lake since July 30, 2011, when Columbus scored twice in the opening 10 minutes on its way to a 2-0 victory. That game was on the road, however, where RSL has been known to struggle. Saturday’s sloppy start, however, was particularly surprising considering last week’s strong victory over Chivas USA.
Shortly after going down 2-0, Luis Gil had a great opportunity to whittle L.A.'s lead in half after a great diagonal ball from Grabavoy, but he squandered the 1-vs.-1 chance with the 'keeper, blasting a shot over the bar.
It was one of several threatening opportunities for Real Salt Lake, but Galaxy reserve 'keeper Brian Rowe did well to deal with RSL’s four other shots on goal in the first half.
Comfortably ahead 2-0 at the half, the Galaxy were content to sit in defensively in the second half and absorb RSL’s pressure.
Sensing a breakthrough wasn’t coming, Kreis mixed things up in the 62nd minute by inserting Devon Sandoval and Yordany Alvarez into the match for Joao Plata and Lovel Palmer and switching to a 3-5-2 formation.
“When you’re down 2-0 at home, it’s drastic-measure time and we tried everything we could,” said Kreis.
Real Salt Lake had plenty of the ball over the final 30 minutes, but lacked the final penetrating pass or shot to break down the Galaxy. Its best opportunity came in the 79th minute, but Magee was there to play villain again clearing a Kyle Beckerman header off the line.
The bad luck continued for RSL in stoppage time during a bizarre sequence in which Olmes Garcia hit the crossbar, Morales hit the post, Sandoval had a tap-in rebound blocked and then Borchers put a shot in traffic wide of the post.
RSL wraps up its three-game homestand next Saturday when it hosts the Vancouver Whitecaps.