(D.C. United)
(D.C. United)

For the second straight weekend, D.C. United squandered a chance to climb atop MLS’s Eastern Conference and the league’s overall standings. And this time, the outcome was never in question, sticking the club with its first losing streak in five months.

In the poorest performance of an otherwise uplifting season, United conceded three goals in 13 minutes of the first half Saturday night and suffered a 3-0 defeat to Real Salt Lake before a sellout crowd of 20,452 at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah.

Joao Plata began the onslaught in the 11th minute and Chris Schuler, a central defender, scored his first two goals of the campaign as Real (10-4-9) extended its unbeaten streak to five. United (11-7-4) has not won a regular season match in Utah since 2005, Real’s inaugural season.

The only good news for United: Leading scorer Fabian Espindola returned from a two-month injury absence and played the last 40 minutes.

Real’s primary outside backs, Tony Beltran and Chris Wingert, served yellow card suspensions, while Perry Kitchen, who marshals United’s midfield, sat out for the same reason. Kitchen’s absence proved more costly: United was unorganized and untidy throughout a miserable first half.

Jared Jeffrey, Kitchen’s replacement, made his first start of the season but failed to counter Real’s conductor, Javier Morales. Jeffrey’s late challenge on Morales in the fifth minute earned a yellow card and served as a harbinger of United’s problems to come.

The match quickly unraveled. In the 11th, Bobby Boswell lost track of the 5-foot-2 Plata, Real’s top scorer, who slipped into a pocket behind the all-star center back and was left wide open to head in Luke Mulholland‘s cross from the right side. It was Plata’s 10th goal of the year.

Two minutes later, Morales gathered the ball on the left edge of the penalty area and drove a low cross into the six-yard box. Schuler stabbed the ball inside the near post.

In the 24th minute, Morales and Schuler combined again, this time on a corner kick that Schuler powered past Hamid with a five-yard header that Boswell and others failed to defend properly.

On this miserable night, United lacked only a red card — and that should have come before halftime when Eddie Johnson, in a moment of frustration and petulance after committing a foul, intentionally slammed the ball at the fallen opponent, Carlos Salcedo. He was fortunate to receive just a yellow card. The MLS disciplinary committee will not look kindly on Johnson’s actions and could issue a suspension.

Late in the half, United settled down defensively and showed signs of life in the attack but did not seriously threaten goalkeeper Nick Rimando.

Hamid prevented further damage early in the second half with a spectacular reflex save on Olmes Garcia‘s diving header.

United stirred midway through the half but failed to beat Rimando, the former D.C. netminder who became MLS’s career leader in shutouts with 113, breaking a tie with the retired Kevin Hartman.

Midfielder David Estrada, acquired from Seattle this week, made his D.C. debut in the 77th minute.

United will welcome the Colorado Rapids to RFK Stadium next Sunday evening, the beginning of five games over 15 days.

Plata’s goal:

Schuler’s first goal:

Schuler’s second goal: