HARRISON, N.J. -- All season the Galaxy showed they were the best team in Major League Soccer, and for the first 45 minutes against the New York Red Bills, that notion was apparent. But a strong second-half push forced L.A.'s defense to bend but not break for an all-important road triumph.
Mike Magee scored from a glorious David Beckham long ball in the 15th minute, and L.A. held off a resurgent New York attack in the second half to grab a 1-0 victory Sunday afternoon at Red Bull Arena, an advantage that will serve it well in the second leg of the two-games, total-goals series Thursday night at Home Depot Center.
The Galaxy offered a sensational first-half performance to take charge, then relied on its league's-best defense to do the rest, denying the Red Bulls opportunities once they found possession -- more than a few times thanks to big Josh Saunders saves.
Beckham set the tone early with three marvelous long balls, and the third -- a ball over the top for Magee to beat the offside -- was golden. Magee, who started his career with New York, got through on the left, then finished inside from a tough angle as Red Bulls goalkeeper Frank Rost flailed weakly at the ball.
That could have made it 2-0. Just three minutes earlier, Beckham sent another floater, just as good, for Magee, but Red Bulls center back Stephen Keel tackled it away and Robbie Keane collected in in the top left corner of the box.
Keane, returning to the field after a 3½-week absence with a muscle tear, ripped a shot off the right post, and Magee nodded the rebound just over the bar.
The Galaxy dictated the first 45 minutes with an exquisite passing game and rock-solid defense, especially MLS Defender of the Year candidate Omar Gonzalez, and when the Red Bulls found the ball in advanced positions, more often than not their attempts were off-target.
New York couldn't get the ball wide in the first half -- Dane Richards struggled to make an impact -- and didn't get its attack going until after the break. Rafa Marquez was the instigator, doing his best Beckham impression to find Richards and then Luke Rodgers atop or in L.A's box in the first two minutes of the second half, but Saunders slapped away Richards' try and Gonzalez halted Rodgers before Thierry Henry tried a leaping bicycle kick that cleared the crossbar.
Saunders came up bigger just two minutes later, knocking a first-time Joel Lindpere shot, from Richards' feed, over the bar, then made his best save, a leaping stop on Marquez in stoppage.
The Galaxy was happy to absorb pressure most of the second half and might have extended its lead through Landon Donovan, who fired at Rost after New York's Tim Ream slipped following a Todd Dunivant long ball, and New York spent the final 20 minute in and around the Galaxy box. Timely defending throughout made the difference.
The game ended ugly, with the teams scuffling at midfield. Marquez, who has a history of stupidity away from the ball, threw the ball at Donovan, and Adam Cristman shoved him in retaliation. Referee Alex Prus red-carded Marquez and Juninho after the game.
strong>Red Bull Arena (Harrison, N.J.)
New York Red Bulls 0, Galaxy 1
LA -- Mike Magee (David Beckham) 15
New York Red Bulls: Frank Rost; Carlos Mendes, Stephen Keel, Tim Ream, Roy Miller; Dane Richards, Rafa Marquez, Teemu Tainio, Joel Lindpere; Luke Rodgers (Mehdi Ballouchy, 80), Thierry Henry. Unused subs: Juan Agudelo, Stephane Auvray, Bouna Coundoul, Dax McCarty.
Galaxy: Josh Saunders; Sean Franklin, Omar Gonzalez, A.J. DeLaGarza, Todd Dunivant; Landon Donovan, David Beckham, Juninho, Mike Magee; Chad Barrett (Adam Cristman, 67), Robbie Keane (Chris Birchall, 83). Unused subs: Paolo Cardozo, Frankie Hejduk, Donovan Ricketts, Dasan Robinson, Michael Stephens.
Yellow cards: Franklin 40, Henry 44. Red cards: Marquez 95-plus, Juninho 95-plus.
Referee: Alex Prus. Att.: 22,663.