CARSON, Calif. (AP) — Javier Morales scored the go-ahead goal in the 80th minute, Fabian Espindola added another late score, and Real Salt Lake spoiled the defending MLS champion Los Angeles Galaxy’s season opener with a 3-1 victory Saturday night.
David Beckham’s dazzling pass set up Edson Buddle’s goal on a header for the Galaxy in the 71st minute, but Sean Franklin’s own-goal moments later evened it for Salt Lake, which lost to Los Angeles last season in the Western Conference final.
Morales then 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. The Galaxy had several late chances, but Salt Lake handed the Galaxy their first home loss in 26 matches since Nov. 14, 2010, thoroughly ruining a celebratory night for Beckham and Los Angeles’ star-studded roster.
Beckham’s cross was the most impressive moment of the English superstar’s return to 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!”
Fans from the Galaxy’s top supporters groups then 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.
Buddle immediately scored in his return to the Galaxy 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 defending their crown and their home field won’t be easy: They didn’t lose here all season long in 2011, capped by their ostensibly neutral-site victory in the MLS Cup.
Los Angeles was MLS’ best defensive team last year, but has already yielded five goals in two matches this week. The Galaxy drew with Toronto FC 2-2 on Wednesday in CONCACAF Champions League action, but only after overcoming an early 2-0 deficit.
Buddle’s goal appeared to be decisive after 70 scoreless minutes, but Real caught a break when Franklin dived and redirected Sebastian Velasquez’s pass into his own net 2 minutes later. Morales, a late substitution after offseason surgery, got the winner when four Los Angeles defenders failed to clear a ball in deep.
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.
Real Salt Lake also begins the season with high expectations after falling one game short of the MLS Cup last season, but Real opened without elite defender Nat Borchers, who’s still recovering from offseason surgery. Top goal-scorer Alvaro Saborio, who also had surgery, and Morales came on late.