CARSON -- The Galaxy has played some beautiful soccer at times this year, but what makes them the best side in Major League Soccer is their ability to win ugly.
A 2-1 triumph Saturday night over Real Salt Lake fits in nicely. The Galaxy played well -- its defensive pressure all over the field was superb -- but needed two gritty goals to move within one victory from clinching its second straight Supporters' Shield.
Chad Barrett scored on a superb individual effort in the 59th minute and a Todd Dunivant ball through the goalmouth led to Nat Borchers' own goal in the 72nd as L.A. rallied from a halftime deficit for the first time this season in front a sellout crowd of 27,000 at Home Depot Center.
“They're not going to be in anybody's highlight films this week, but two balls that went over the line,” Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena said. “They all count.”
That's how it's been for L.A. (18-3-10) the past week. Barrett volleyed home a rebound in stoppage to win at Columbus last week, and Juninho followed with a stoppage-time strike from a corner kick to claim Wednesday's must-win CONCACAF Champions League clash against Morelia.
RSL (15-10-6), which has lost three in a row, was eliminated from contention for the Supporters' Shield, which goes to the team with the best regular-season record. L.A. would have clinched it had Seattle (16-6-9) failed to win in New England, a 2-1 Sounders triumph. On to New York, where the Galaxy plays Tuesday night, and where a win will settle it.
“It would've been nice to do it today,” said Galaxy captain Landon Donovan. “If we win in New York, we're there. I think two points is the magic number either way. We need to tie two games or win a game or hope Seattle drops points. We're close but not there yet.”
L.A. is close on other fronts, too. A win Oct. 20 at Motagua sends it to next year's knockout stage in the Champions League, one of the club's primary goals. Then there's the Shield. And then?
“Our eyes are kind of focused on the postseason,” Dunivant said. “We want to close out this Supporters' Shield and advance in CONCACAF, and after that we know that the big prize and the way you make your living in this league is in the playoffs.”
The result gives the Galaxy 64 points, matching the post-shootout era record set by San Jose in 2005 and just four off the Galaxy club record set in 1998, when the old tiebreaker was still in effect. That team would have finished with 70 points under current rules.
A quick look at the Galaxy's victory:
BEST PLAYER: Both playmakers were influential, and both deserve praise. Beckham made a case for his MVP candidacy with superb balls into RSL's box from start to finish -- pity his teammates rarely got on the end of them. But when they did, good things happened. Barrett's goal came from a beautiful long ball into the box, and the own goal followed a free kick that Donovan flicked on to Dunivant at the far post.
Javier Morales was nearly as good for RSL, although it was just his first start since suffering that nasty ankle injury against Chivas USA back on May 7. The Lions struggled to break L.A.'s pressure in the first 30 or 35 minutes, and when they finally did, it was through Morales' service, balls over the backline for, primarily, Fabian Espindola.
Arena said he was happy to see the Argentine midfielder back on the field.
“I think I can speak for everyone: It's great to have him back on the field,” Arena said. “It really is, because he's a player who's been great for the lague and certainly great for Salt Lake, and as he continues to move forward and finds his form and fitness, he's definitely going to make them a better team.”
BEST GOAL: Barrett's was fine ... and oh-so-cheeky.
It came courtesy of Beckham, his league-best 15th assist -- he dropped a ball from the right flank, just inside Galaxy territory, into the RSL box, and Barrett battled Jamison Olave as it bounced toward the right post.
Olave had position on Barrett and was shepherding the ball for Lions keeper Nick Rimando, who failed to come off his line to grab it. So Barrett, behind Olave and with the ball at the big defender's hip, stuck out his left foot at the post, lifting it over Rimando. It bounced inside the goal and then out -- but in was enough, and L.A. was even.
Barrett said he'd talked to Beckham, told him to give him a look and he would take off on a sprint to the box. That's what happened here.
“It kind of surprised Olave a little bit,” Barrett said. “There was a miscommunication between him and Rimando. I saw the opportunity to put my toe in there. His hands were down, and I just lifted it over him.”
Someone pointed out that the ball had bounced out of the goal, and he hadn't noticed.
“It still counts,” he said.
BIGGEST STRUGGLE: Only one blip for the Galaxy: A.J. DeLaGarza's failure to adequately mark Espindola on the RSL goal. And that was product of the one area in which L.A. struggled.
The Utahns are deadly on set pieces when Morales is taking them, and the Galaxy gave up too many of them around their box. Morales came close to scoring directly from one -- forcing a leaping save by Josh Saunders with a blast to the upper-left corner in the 17th minute -- and his delivery on the corner kick just before the half was perfect.
Espindola did well to run toward the near post, about 10 yards out, and DeLaGarza had no chance to keep him from Morales' cross. Nobody was going to stop his glancing header.
WORTH NOTING: The Galaxy is 12-0-5 at HDC with one more home game on the schedule, Oct. 16 against Chivas USA. ... Referee Kevin Stott whistled 40 fouls for the game -- 24 against RSL -- and issued six yellow cards, all in the first 57 minutes. ... Donovan (12 goals) dropped to third in the MLS scoring race, one behind New York's Thierry Henry, who netted the equalizer in the Red Bulls' 1-1 draw Saturday at Toronto FC, and two behind D.C. United's Dwayne De Rosario. ... Beckham moves in front of Houston's Brad Davis (14) on the helpers list. ... Robbie Keane, who returned to the Galaxy lineup after missing two games with a gluteal injury, departs Sunday to join Ireland's national team for Euro 2012 qualifying matches at Andorra and against Armenia. Donovan won't join the U.S. for friendlies against Honduras and Ecuador until after Tuesday's Galaxy game at New York.
FINAL JUDGMENT: “I observe teams in sports, and recently a team in another sport [baseball's Boston Red Sox], they talked about the fact that they had a bad stretch run and it had to do with some of the personalities in the locker room,” Arena said. “And it's true. I've been in a team that had some bad eggs, and a couple guys can ruin a team. You have to hang in there and be a team and deal with the ups and downs.
“What I'm trying to say is I give Landon a lot of credit for his leadership, as our captain and setting the tone each and every day. ... Even when we don't play well, don't get the kind of result we want, they stick together and they get back to business the next day. And in this modern era, that's not always easy to do. Sometimes people think about themselves more than the group or the team, and they go in their own directions and are individuals.
“This has been a really good unit. ... I've got to give Landon a lot of credit. You talk about the value players have to a team. We know his value on the field. His value off the field is tremendous -- in some ways, it's more influential than it is on the fld. How do you get through a stretch run and deal with all of this [in a packed schedule]? The leadership plays a vital role, and you have to give Landon a lot of credit for that, and our senior guys as well, and our young guys. They're just a pleasure to work with.”
NEXT: Tuesday at New York, 5 p.m. (ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes)
Home Depot Center (Carson)
Galaxy 2, Real Salt Lake 1
RSL -- Fabian Espindola (Javier Morales) 45
LA -- Chad Barrett (David Beckham) 59
LA -- og Nat Borchers 72
Galaxy: Josh Saunders; Bryan Jordan, Omar Gonzalez, A.J. DeLaGarza, Todd Dunivant; Paolo Cardozo, David Beckham, Juninho, Landon Donovan (Michael Stephens, 89); Chad Barrett (Adam Cristman, 73), Robbie Keane (Jovan Kirovski, 91+). Unused subs: Frankie Hejduk, Hector Jimenez, Miguel Lopez, Brian Perk.
Real Salt Lake: Nick Rimando; Chris Wingert, Jamison Olave, Nat Borchers, Chris Schuler; Ned Grabavoy, Yordany Alvarez (Andy Williams, 74), Javier Morales (Collen Warner, 80), Will Johnson; Alvaro Saborio, Fabian Espindola (Paulo Jr., 65).
Yellow cards: Espindola 38, O. Gonzalez 40, Cardozo 42, Grabavoy 49+, Morales 48, Y. Alvarez 57.
Referee: Kevin Stott. Att.: 27,000.