CARSON -- Bruce Arena figured he'd made a mistake almost from the start. The fatigue in his team, most of which had gone the distance three nights earlier in a more vital match at Toronto, was evident, the opponent was good, and he had only three substitutions in his arsenal.
With sharper play in front, the Galaxy might have been ahead by three or four goals, perhaps more, by the time they finally struck, with about 20 minutes to go. Not two minutes later, Real Salt Lake had pulled even, and then things fell apart.
Arena took the blame for Saturday night's 3-1 loss in L.A.'s Major League Soccer opener, a defeat that ended a 25-match Home Depot Center unbeaten streak, spoiled a celebratory occasion -- with the club unveiling banners commemorating last year's MLS Cup and Supporters' Shield triumphs -- and revealed weakness where there was none in its championship campaign.
Sean Franklin's 73rd-minute own goal, off a dipping, spinning cross by Sebastian Velasquez, was followed in quick succession by goals from Javier Morales and Fabian Espindola as the Galaxy, so good at killing games the past three years, crumpled at the finish.
“We were obviously a tired team tonight,” Arena said after L.A. dropped its first opener since 2007, when Frank Yallop was in charge. “I think we still could have won this game, and I think this game is on me. It's my fault. I should have used fresher bodies. We hit the wall and made mistakes attributable to fatigue.
“I think the travel [to and from Toronto] and two games this week added up to being a pretty tired team over the last 20 minutes, and it cost us the game, and I take full responsibility for that.”
Arena's sin? Not rotating his lineup nearly enough from the side he sent out for Wednesday night's CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal first leg in Toronto. The Galaxy rallied for a 2-2 draw in that game, and nine of the players who went the full 90 on Rogers Centre's artificial turf were given another full 90 against RSL.
“This time of year,” Arena conceded, “players aren't fit enough to be playing that much.”
He said he “probably could have changed half the team easily” and that “we'll have to make changes for the [second] game against Toronto.”
The Galaxy weren't particularly sharp, but they weren't awful, either, dictating more of the game and having far more chances, at least through the first 71 minutes. Landon Donovan, healthier and more energetic than he was in Toronto, and debutant Marcelo Sarvas hit the crossbar with first-half shots -- David Beckham said he thought Sarvas' crossed the line -- and Robbie Keane and Edson Buddle had chances they probably should have put away.
“We knew it was going to be hard, this start to the season,” Donovan said. “Playing a hard game on turf, then traveling -- naturally, guys are going to be tired. But that's not an excuse. We had enough opportunities to win the game. We're up a goal with 25 minutes to go, we should do a better job of finishing it.”
Buddle, surrounded by RSL defenders, headed home a beautiful Beckham cross in the 71st minute, and that should have been enough. But the own goal amplified the fatigue, and Morales and Alvaro Saborio had fresh legs -- they'd come on in the 67th minute for the Utahns -- that they used to tear down L.A.'s defense, which had been pretty good to that point.
A different crew out there might have made the difference, and Arena said so in his postgame news conference. He took responsibility five times in about five minutes.
“I don't want to blame the coach for that,” center back A.J. DeLaGarza said. “That's our own problem. We could have put the game away early, we didn't, an unlucky own goal and we kind of unraveled after that. Kind of crumbled after that, I guess. After the own goal, everyone got deflated. Maybe the Toronto game put a little beating on us, and I guess we felt it.”
Beckham waved off Arena's claims.
“It's not down to the coach once the players are out on the field,” he said. “He picks a team he thinks is a strong team, that is ready to play, and then it's down to the players. It's down to us collectively.
“I think fatigue did kick in a certain amount, and that's when mistakes become apparent, and then the chances we have, we're not sharp enough to put them away.
“Just one of those nights.”
Home Depot Center (Carson)
Galaxy 1, Real Salt Lake 3
LA -- Edson Buddle (David Beckham, Juninho) 71
RSL -- own goal Sean Franklin 73
RSL -- Javier Morales 80
RSL -- Fabian Espindola (Alvaro Saborio) 85
Galaxy: Josh Saunders; Sean Franklin, Tommy Meyer (Chad Barrett, 84), A.J. DeLaGarza, Todd Dunivant; Landon Donovan, David Beckham, Marcelo Sarvas (Juninho, 69), Mike Magee (Michael Stephens, 70); Edson Buddle, Robbie Keane. Unused subs: Andrew Boyens, Dan Keat, Pat Noonan, Brian Perk.
Real Salt Lake: Nick Rimando; Tony Beltran, Jamison Olave, Chris Schuler, Chris Wingert; Ned Grabavoy, Kyle Beckerman, Luis Gil (Javier Morales, 67), Sebastian Velasquez (Yordany Alvarez, 89); Paulo Jr. (Alvaro Saborio, 67), Fabian Espindola. Unused subs: Cody Arnoux, Leone Cruz, Kyle Reynish, Terakazu Tanaka.
Yellow card: Beckerman 36.
Referee: Kevin Stott. Att.: 27,000