Losing to a team that came to town with the 15th-best record in Major League Soccer is a perfectly good way to ruin an unbeaten streak.
Disregarding the credibility that comes with the Los Angeles Galaxy's status as the MLS Cup defending champions and the presence of Landon Donovan and David Beckham, there was absolutely nothing forgivable about Real Salt Lake's 3-2 loss Wednesday night at Rio Tinto Stadium.
This game was supposed to validate RSL's rise to the top of the MLS standings. Instead, it turned into an embarrassment, considering the way everything unfolded in front of a sellout crowd of 20,382.
"Pretty bewildering," said RSL defender Nat Borchers, summarizing the turn of events.
RSL's defensive blunders enabled the Galaxy (5-8-2) to escape with the victory, after Real produced goals by Kyle Beckerman and Alvaro Saborio in the first 24 minutes and showed every sign of dominating the game. Each of Donovan's two goals came when he found himself alone against RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando, who was helpless in trying to stop him.
"We gave them all the goals," Rimando said. "I don't think they created a lot, but when we made our mistakes, they capitalized."
The outcome was a huge letdown, considering Real entered with a 5-0-2 record in its past seven games and was clearly looking like the class of MLS. Having opened the season with a 3-1 win over the Galaxy in Los Angeles in March, RSL was coming off a 3-0 defeat of Chivas USA last weekend in L.A., a showing that coach Jason Kreis described as his team's most complete performance of the season.
This effort? Incomplete, at best. So now, having beaten both Los Angeles-based teams on the road, RSL has lost to each of them at home.
Even though the Galaxy had only recently ended a seven-game winless run, they arrived with enough cachet to fill the stadium for a mid-week game. That created a revved-up atmosphere, heightened even more by RSL's great start.
But it didn't last.
At halftime, the official statistics distributed in the press box showed the 2-1 score in Real's favor as a final, complete with updated records reflecting that result. Let's just say the Galaxy's rally forced a recount.
By Kreis' account, RSL went from being overconfident with the two-goal lead to feeling defeated at halftime, dwelling too much on defender Tony Beltran's turnover that gave Donovan an easy goal in the 29th minute. "That's unlike our team," Kreis said. "We didn't recover the way that we needed to."
Once it was 2-2, Kreis played aggressively, continuing his all-or-nothing quest for home wins. This time, his team got nothing. The Galaxy's counterattack produced Donovan's second goal, and RSL's late pressure failed to salvage a tie.
When the game ended, Donovan and Beckham joined Todd Dunivant in a hug at midfield. Obviously, beating RSL is meaningful now, but that's not the kind of validation this team and its followers were seeking.
Real must regroup quickly, facing San Jose with the Western Conference lead at stake Saturday. "I know what reaction I expect," Kreis said, "but we'll see what we get."
For a while Wednesday, when summer officially arrived on a cool, pleasant evening, it was fairly easy to imagine a cold November night with RSL hosting the MLS Cup. But then came Real's meltdown, resulting in the loss of a seemingly safe lead. RSL still claims the league's best record (10-4-2), but in reality, that mark is not quite as good as it should be.