Maybe D.C. United just used up all their Utah karma last year in the US Open Cup final. No matter the cause, United was not ready at kickoff and Real Salt Lake took full advantage, scoring twice in the first 13 minutes and adding a third in the 24th to win 3-0 at Rio Tinto Stadium. After Joao Plata opened the scoring, center back Chris Schuler scored twice, both on assists from Javier Morales. Schuler's first came after an RSL corner was not fully cleared, allowing for a series of crosses from the Utah side, while his second was direct from a perfectly-placed corner by Morales.
The goals against were not some sort of once-in-a-season series of flukes; rather, they underlined RSL's early dominance. Virtually from the opening kickoff, Real was in control. Jared Jeffrey - standing in for the suspended Perry Kitchen in central midfield - picked up an early yellow card for a late tackle that summarized how the hosts were one step ahead of United throughout the first half.
RSL scored what seemed like an inevitable goal in the 11th minute. After a spell of possession, Morales chipped the ball into the box for Olmes Garcia as the young Colombian ran diagonally between Bobby Boswell and Steve Birnbaum. Garcia's attempted shot was easily blocked by Birnbaum, but in a classic example of how teams make their own luck, the ball stayed inbounds and fell to Luke Mulholland. The English midfielder's perfectly weighted chip from the right side of the box found Plata completely unmarked at the back post to head past Bill Hamid. During the sequence, Plata stood unmarked between Boswell and Sean Franklin from the moment Garcia turned to shoot.
Normally a goal that early is like a slap in the face, but United was still more or less asleep when RSL made it 2-0 just two minutes later. A corner from Morales was partially cleared, but an alert sprint from Carlos Salcedo allowed the stand-in right back to keep the play alive and cross the ball back into the area.
The cross was too hard RSL's men in the box, but Morales was on hand to collect it, freeze Nick DeLeon with a feint, and fire a low ball towards the near post. Schuler had no trouble tapping the ball in after United's marking completely broke down as Salcedo's cross flew over the crowd.
A brief injury stoppage in the minutes after the goal saw several United players loosely huddle up to talk things over, and DC did appear to get their legs under them just a bit for a few minutes. However, any realistic chance of a comeback was ended by Schuler in the 24th minute, as he knifed through a gap to pound a header from a Morales corner past Hamid. Boswell did not look good on the goal, misreading the flight of the ball in an attempt to head it clear ahead of Schuler's run.
Things went from bad to worse in the 30th minute, as a collision between Salcedo and Eddie Johnson left the RSL man on the ground. Johnson - for no obvious reason - proceeded to blast the loose ball into the prone Salcedo. After a discussion with his AR, referee Hilario Grajeda opted for a yellow card instead of the red he could have given. As Johnson has already been suspended and fined for separate incidents by the MLS Disciplinary Committee, and MLS's history of suspending players for just this sort of thing - ask Ben Olsen, David Beckham, and Thierry Henry, among others - it seems highly likely that EJ will miss out against the Colorado Rapids this coming Sunday.
United finally started to look somewhat competent in the final ten minutes of the half, but RSL was able to comfortably defend the Black-and-Red's moves forward. On the other side of halftime, Fabian Espindola made his return from injury in the 50th minute, but RSL made sure United couldn't gain a foothold by simply keeping the ball for long spells. That possession culminated in a Garcia header that drew a superb save at full stretch by Hamid in the 53rd minute.
Espindola showed what DC fans had been missing six minutes after that, sending a superbly placed long free kick from the near touchline into the area. Davy Arnaud did well to beat Mulholland to the ball, but his soaring attempt left him just slightly under the ball, forcing his header just over the bar. It was likely United's best moment of the game, as Nick Rimando had no chance at a save if the effort had been on frame.
United created a couple of half-chances after Lewis Neal came on, as the man who scored the cup-winning goal last year at the same venue served up some tempting long balls for Johnson to chase down, but ultimately Rimando had little to worry about en route to his 113th career shutout, a new record for MLS goalkeepers. The loss marks United's first losing streak of any kind in 2014.