Galaxy 3, United 2

D.C. United had roared up the MLS Eastern Conference standings this summer with surprising victories at Los Angeles and Chicago and convincing home wins against the MetroStars, San Jose and Chivas USA. The last thing anyone expected was for United to struggle at RFK Stadium last night against a club that had become a punch line on the road the last two seasons.

But in a mystifying 90 minutes, the defending champions fell behind on three occasions, the final time midway through the second half, and dropped a 3-2 decision to the Los Angeles Galaxy before an agitated crowd of 16,863.

The result ended United's winning streak at four and its unbeaten run at six, and provided the Galaxy with its first victory outside Southern California in nearly 14 months. (Los Angeles's two previous road wins this year were against Chivas, a lowly Los Angeles-based expansion team.) "We were flying high for a while," goalkeeper Nick Rimando said, "and this grounds us a little bit."

U.S. national team star Landon Donovan struck twice in the second half to hand United (11-7-5) its first loss since July 9 and prevent D.C. from moving within a point of first-place New England. United will visit the Revolution next weekend in the first of three consecutive road games.

With the match tied 1-1 at the half, Donovan gave the Galaxy (10-9-5) the lead on a superbly struck free kick. Jaime Moreno's penalty kick tied it in the 66th minute, but Donovan responded with a six-yard header a minute later.

United nearly stole a tie at the end, but Kevin Hartman stopped Dema Kovalenko's one-timer and Moreno's follow hit the crossbar in the 90th minute.

"If we think it's going to be easy, we're making a big mistake," Coach Peter Nowak said. "The body language, the reactions, it was not the D.C. United I know. I'm going to blame myself because it's my job to prepare this team and tonight I think I did a bad job."

United started well as Moreno collected Christian Gomez's pass and beat Hartman with a curling shot 17 minutes into the match. But the linesman signaled an offside infraction -- a faulty ruling, according to television replays.

United had made precious few defensive mistakes the last two months, an attribute that had helped the club become the league leader in goals against average for one of the few times in its 10-year history. In the 28th minute, however, Bobby Boswell inadvertently directed Cobi Jones's cross into the net for his second own goal of his rookie season. It was the first of several defensive breakdowns by a team that had yielded only four goals in the previous eight matches.

United needed only nine minutes for the equalizer. Gomez bent a free kick from 25 yards deep into the box, where Bryan Namoff connected with a glancing header for his first goal in regular season play in five MLS seasons.

But the Galaxy continued to find space and create opportunities, going ahead in the 53rd minute on a 25-yard free kick that Donovan lifted over the defensive wall and tucked just under the crossbar beyond the reach of a leaping Rimando.

United got even again in the 66th minute, when Moreno drew a penalty kick and slotted it past Hartman for his team-high 10th goal (seven on PKs). But a minute later, Jones's cross found Donovan, whose downward header beat Rimando to the left corner for his ninth goal of the year.

Namoff received his second yellow card during injury time, resulting in an ejection and a one-game suspension.

"L.A. didn't win the game tonight -- we lost this game because we didn't fight, we didn't run, we were too predictable and not creative enough," Nowak said. "We weren't hungry for those three points."

United Notes: The club has ended discussions about possibly acquiring Argentine midfielder-forward Francisco Guerrero, citing limited salary cap space and questions about whether he would fit into the team's system. United will likely sign a young player with local connections to fill out the roster before the Sept. 15 deadline.

The Galaxy's Pablo Chinchilla, left, steals the ball from United's Jamil Walker during the game at RFK. United's midfielder Christian Gomez slides to keep the ball away from Galaxy's Peter Vagenas, right, and Cobi Jones.