The Galaxy scored two first-half goals, took charge defensively after Colorado's speed nearly burned them early on, and overcame altitude's impact on their tiring legs to post back-to-back victories for the first time since winning MLS Cup last season and even their record at .500.
But they needed late heroics from goalkeeper Josh Saunders to pull out a 2-1 victory Saturday evening over the Rapids in Commerce City, Colo.
Saunders saved Omar Cummings' penalty kick three minutes into stoppage to secure the victory as the Galaxy took another step toward normalcy with their first road victory of 2012.
Three thoughts on the Galaxy's triumph:
1. BAD CALL, BIG STOP
L.A. did well to shut off space after Cummings' speed caused a lot of trouble in the first 15 minutes or so, and an own goal by former UCLA star Marvell Wynne and Landon Donovan's clinical finish from Robbie Keane's feed provided an advantage that should have been enough, even after Cummings halved the deficit in the 63rd minute.
Then referee Ramon Hernandez attempted outright robbery, awarding the Rapids a penalty kick after Andre Akpan, soaring for a long ball into the Galaxy box, fell to the turf under pressure -- but nothing beyond incidental contact -- from David Junior Lopes.
It was an absurd call, and it took three minutes for the kick to come after everyone in a Galaxy shirt, it seemed, had taken an opportunity to lecture Hernandez. Cummings stepped softly to the ball, then fired to the right side -- not particularly hard, not far enough toward the post. Saunders leapt to knock it away, and L.A. was 3-3-0.
2. SOLID DEFENSE
The Galaxy's early-season struggles were all about defending, and not just on the backline. That was shored up greatly in the past two games -- the loss at Sporting Kansas City and last week's win over Portland -- but Cummings, one of the fastest and most effective forwards in MLS, was tearing holes through L.A. in the first dozen minutes or so.
The Rapids attacker ran onto a through ball in the fifth minute and fed Tony Cascio for a should-be goal that the rookie whiffed on. Cummings beat Lopes on the right flank three minutes later, but his ideas -- and execution -- were subpar.
L.A. tightened in midfield and at the back after that, conceding most of the possession to Colorado (which had the ball 62 percent of the game) but keeping the game in front of the defenders.
That worked for an hour or so, until Cummings beat Lopes to score, and Jaime Castillon might have equalized a minute later had A.J. DeLaGarza, back in the lineup after missing last week with an adductor strain, not slid in to knock the ball away.
Lopes, acquired nearly two weeks ago in a trade with Chivas USA, was more hit and miss than in his Galaxy debut last week. He was a force on set pieces and offered steel in the back, but Cascio twirled him in circles before delivering a ball Saunders parried and Kamani Hill volleyed over the top -- Colorado's best first-half chance -- and he was beaten three times on the goal by Cummings, who fired to the top-right corner after the Brazilian unsuccessfully tried to slide-tackle him just above the box.
3. FINISHING CHANCES
L.A. has been less than precise with their chances most of the season, but their finishing was exact Saturday. Both goals were fine, even if the first was counted as an own goal.
Credit goes to the Galaxy's Designated Players. David Beckham created the Wynne own goal in the 21st minute with a deceptive free kick from about 40 yards. He looked right, then chipped the ball to an open Magee on the left side of the box. Magee nodded the ball into the goalmouth, and Wynne's glancing header went the wrong way.
Donovan tallied in the 39th following a long run and a give-and-go with Keane, who was outstanding while playing far deeper than usual. Edson Buddle, back in the starting lineup after poor form put him on the bench against Portland, made the key run on the play, racing toward to right post and dragging defender Kosuke Kimura with him, which opened the space for Donovan.
Dick's Sporting Goods Park (Commerce City, Colo.)
Colorado Rapids 1, Galaxy 2
LA -- own goal Marvell Wynne 21
LA -- Landon Donovan (Robbie Keane) 39
C -- Omar Cummings 63
Colorado Rapids: Matt Pickens; Kosuke Kimura, Drew Moor, Marvell Wynne, Luis Zapata; Kamani Hill (Wells Thompson, 78), Jeff Larentowicz; Brian Mullan (Andre Akpan, 88), Jaime Castrillon, Tony Cascio; Omar Cummings. Unused subs: Steward Ceus, Hunter Freeman, Tyrone Marshall, Joseph Nane, Kohei Yamada.
Galaxy: Josh Saunders; Sean Franklin, A.J. DeLaGarza, David Junior Lopes, Todd Dunivant; Landon Donovan, David Beckham, Juninho (Michael Stephens, 89), Mike Magee (Pat Noonan, 81); Edson Buddle (Chad Barrett, 72), Robbie Keane. Unused subs: Bill Gaudette, Bryan Jordan, Tommy Meyer, Marcelo Sarvas.
Yellow cards: Larentowicz 23, Kimura 43, Juninho 66, Cummings 83.
Referee: Ramon Hernandez. Att.: 19,152.
Records: Colorado 3-4-0, 9 points; Galaxy 3-3-0, 9 points.