The Galaxy got the battle it expected in Saturday's Major League Soccer clash at Colorado -- more so once the Denver altitude had sapped their strength -- and everything it needed for success: expert defending (for the third straight game, too), clinical finishing (Marvell Wynne doing his part), and big plays when it mattered from the man in the nets.
It added up to a deserved 2-1 victory over the Rapids, who had most of the ball but not nearly as much of the game as they believed.
L.A. took another step toward its standard with a smart performance in difficult conditions, negating Omar Cummings' speed for long stretches, then huffing and puffing through an excruciating final half-hour after the Jamaican forward halved their advantage in the 63rd minute.
They needed great fortune to pull it off after referee Ramon Hernandez awarded the Rapids a phantom penalty in the final minute. Andre Akpan, leaping to get to ball over the top, fell to the turf under pressure from defenders David Junior Lopes and Todd Dunivant.
Perhaps there was incidental contact with Lopes. Hernandez thought he saw enough, although he was trailing the play by some distance, to point to the spot, assess a yellow card to Lopes, then stand back as Colorado -- with a chance to snatch a point -- unwrapped its gift.
Cummings' penalty was not particularly well-taken, and goalkeeper Josh Saunders leaped to easily knock it aside.
“Certainly a pretty hectic closing minutes of that game, with that call and everything else,” Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena told reporters afterward. “Absolutely remarkable. We're thankful we survived it.”
The Galaxy went ahead on a 21st-minute own goal by Wynne, who redirected into his net Mike Magee's header from David Beckham's free-kick chip, then doubled the lead in the 39th when Landon Donovan completed a sweet sequence with Robbie Keane.
That was about all L.A. could muster in the thin air.
“It was tough,” Beckham told reporters afterward. “We all felt it in the warm-up, and when you go on a long run or things like that during the game, then you feel it as well. I think we coped with it pretty well, especially in the first half.”
After initially finding space behind L.A.'s backline through Cummings' pace, the Rapids struggled to penetrate, getting through just twice, when Kamani Hill volleyed over the crossbar after Saunders parried Tony Cascio's cross in the 30th minute and on a through ball to Jaime Castillon before A.J. DeLaGarza slid in to end the threat.
There was justice in the conclusion, in Saunders' stoppage-time save.
“To be honest, I'm probably better off not even commenting on it, because I’ll get myself in trouble,” Beckham told reporters when asked about the penalty kick. “That’s enough -- I’m not even going to say anything. It would have been a travesty if we hadn’t won this game tonight, because we were on top for most of the game. They obviously came at us second half, but it would have been a travesty if we hadn’t have won it, but we did. ... We’re happy that Josh came up with a great save for the penalty. There should never have been one, but that’s immaterial now.”
Said Arena: “I saw nothing. There was not a foul. It was a poor call. We survived it though, fortunately.”
WORTH NOTING: Lopes was beat on three occasions, including Cummings' goal, but he's made L.A.'s backline stronger. His physical style meshes well with DeLaGarza's more studied approach in the middle, and his athleticism enables him to overcome errors. And he's quickly become the No. 1 target on set pieces, just like Omar Gonzalez, the man he's replacing. ... Magee departed after abruptly sitting down in the 79th minute. He had been kicked by Kosuke Kimura just above his left knee in the 43rd minute, but seemed fine in the second half. No word yet on his situation. ... Beckham, on the mood of the team: “Obviously, the locker room’s better now than it was two weeks ago, because we’re playing as a team, were playing well, we’re winning games. We just need to continue that." ... Donovan has scored in successive games. ... Wynne's was the second own goal the Galaxy has received this year. Former L.A. defender Ty Harden knocked in a Donovan cross in the loss to Toronto FC in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal second leg at Home Depot Center. ... The Galaxy is sixth in the Western Conference, two points out of third place and seven behind San Jose, which vaulted atop the standings with a 3-1 win over Real Salt Lake. If L.A. was in the East, it would be third.