CARSON -- The Galaxy was missing more than a third of its roster, with 11 players out with injuries or suspensions or off playing in Euro 2012, but Josh Saunders was back in the nets Sunday afternoon -- and he seemed to bring the spirit of last year with him.
The veteran goalkeeper, making his first Major League Soccer appearance since heading into the league's Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health program in late April, made two big first-half saves, and Todd Dunivant's second-half goal stood up for a 1-0 victory over the Portland Timbers, the club's first shutout since November's MLS Cup triumph ending its seven-game league winless streak.
Forced to play a new formation -- let's call it a 4-5-1, although there were different variations as the game wore on -- the Galaxy played with a tenor that's been missing all season, grinding their way out of the Western Conference cellar with perhaps their most complete performance of the season.
Saunders made a face-save on Kris Boyd in the seventh minute, a diving save on the Scotsman in the 26th, and the men in front of him did the rest, preventing the Timbers from creating anything resembling a scoring chance over the final hour.
“We were fighting numbers today -- we were very limited who we had available. We just had to gut it out,” said Galaxy coach Bruce Arena, who stationed Chad Barrett alone up front, had Landon Donovan and Bryan Jordan on the flanks and a midfield triangle headed by Marcelo Sarvas, in his best showing since joing L.A. “Our guys did a terrific job given the numbers we had today and the conditions. ... We knew a goal could hold up today, and we're pleased with that. Because there were a number of games this year that should have ended like that and didn't, so to be able to get the three points tonight is great.”
Sarvas was the key performer, working in combination with David Beckham and Juninho to lead an attack that deserved more than one goal, and Saunders' play in the first half-hour made a huge difference.
“Josh was great,” said Donovan, L.A.'s captain. “I think his attitude since he's been back has been great. I guess everyone would say the same thing: It looks like he has some clarity in life. He looks humble, he looks calm.”
The save on Boyd, a point-blank shot that whistled through Saunders' hands and smashed into his face, was the big play, along with Dunivant's 61st-minute header from a Beckham corner kick, his first goal in more than two years.
The Galaxy (4-8-2, 14 points), who climbed to sixth in the West -- a point behind Chivas USA and two in front of Portland (3-6-4) and FC Dallas -- won a dozen 1-0 decisions last year, including the MLS Cup triumph over Houston. This one had much in common with those: good energy, solid defense, a timely save or two and the ability to make the most of the opportunities.
Now it's about building on the result.
“We did a good job, no question about that,” Arena said. “I'm not going to make the statement it looked like last year yet. If it looked like last year, we'd have a few more wins under our belt. It's progress and hopefully we can move forward.”
WORTH NOTING: The only healthy, present player not on the 18-man game roster was third-choice goalkeeper Bill Gaudette. ... Great Britain Olympic team manager Stuart Pearce was on hand to scout Beckham. ... Teen forward Jack McBean was at midfield, ready to make his second MLS appearance, when Jordan started cramping, so the Galaxy instead brought on Kyle Nakazawa in the 80th minute. McBean, who scored in his debut at Houston in last year's regular-season finale, got his chance two minutes later, subbing in for Barrett. ... Portland managed to get defender Mamadou “Futty” Danso back from international duty for the game -- he arrived in L.A. on Saturday night -- and he was on the bench for the Timbers. ... Jose Villarreal is not eligible to play for the Galaxy and won't be until August, when his first anniversary in L.A.'s academy arrives.
MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER
Home Depot Center (Carson)
Galaxy 1, Portland Timbers 0
LA -- Todd Dunivant (David Beckham) 61
Galaxy: Josh Saunders; Sean Franklin, David Junior Lopes, A.J. DeLaGarza, Todd Dunivant; Bryan Jordan (Kyle Nakazawa, 80), David Beckham, Juninho, Landon Donovan; Marcelo Sarvas; Chad Barrett (Jack McBean, 82). Unused subs: Rafael Garcia, Bryan Gaul, Tommy Meyer, Brian Perk, Kenney Walker.
Portland Timbers: Troy Perkins; Jack Jewsbury, Hanyer Mosquera, David Horst, Mike Chabala; Kalif Alhassan (Eric Alexander, 79), Diego Chara, Darlington Nagbe, Franck Songo'o (Sal Zizzo, 65); Kris Boyd (Mike Fucito, 73), Danny Mwanga. Unused subs: Joe Bendik, Mamadou Danso, Lovel Palmer, Brent Richards.
Yellow cards: Dunivant 33, Chabala 40, Chara 71.
Referee: Geoff Gamble. Att.: 20,611.
Records: Galaxy 4-8-2, 14 points; Portland 3-6-4, 13 points.