CARSON -- The Galaxy displayed their grit a week ago and never-say-die attitude Wednesday, when they started showing real signs of life following a horrendous first three months of the season.
It was all rehearsal for Saturday night, when the real Galaxy -- the one that has been so dominant the past few years -- showed up for the first time in 2012, putting on a jaw-dropping first-half display while destroying a pretty good Vancouver side at Home Depot Center.
Robbie Keane returned from a disappointing Euro 2012 in superior form, scoring one tremendous goal and winning a penalty kick, as L.A. (6-8-2) scored three times in the first half for a 3-0 triumph, giving the club its first three-game winning streak since capturing MLS Cup last November, successive home shutouts for the first time since September and vaulting them into the Western Conference's playoff zone, into fifth place, with 20 points. Nine of those 20 were claimed in the past week.
“I think it was a great win tonight for our team,” Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said. “They had an exceptional first half and maybe could have gotten more goals, but I'm not being greedy at this point.
“I think we're slowly becoming a good team, and I think inside our locker room we understand what it takes to become a good team. It was an important week for us. We're back in playoff contention, and there's going to be a lot of difficult games ahead. ... Hopefully, our guys have learned a lot in the first 16 games, hopefully learned enough to get us through the next 18 in better form.”
The Galaxy started the week in the Western Conference basement, but their form in victories Sunday over Portland and, after rallying from a two-goal deficit, Wednesday at Real Salt Lake signaled things were getting back to where they'd been expected to be all along.
Saturday night's triumph was a huge step forward. Keane and Landon Donovan were spectacular, David Beckham was nearly as good, and the team defensive play was remindful of last season's, when L.A. shut out 17 of 34 MLS foes.
“Certainly since I've come back, you can feel that the winning mentality is back from when I first came last season,” said Keane, who returned Wednesday to L.A. following Ireland's Euro 2012 elimination, rejoined training Friday and gave one of his finest performances in a Galaxy jersey. “It's important that we keep that going as a team. I think that if we keep playing like that against anyone, it'll be very hard for teams to beat us. The way that we passed and moved made it very difficult for any team.”
L.A. applied heavy pressure on the third-place Whitecaps (7-3-5) from the start, and continually carved up their defense through, primarily, Keane and Donovan, who netted his third goal of the week -- converting the penalty kick to make it 3-0 in the 41st minute -- assisted Mike Magee's 16th-minute opener and nearly netted three more on shots that went wide, one that grazed the outside of the right post.
“I thought that the movement of their front players was by far the best I've seen since I've been in MLS ...,” said Martin Rennie, who took charge of Vancouver during the offseason. “The movement of Keane and Donovan, my opinion, was like world-class. Their movement was fantastic. They caused so many problems the way they came out at the backline and then turned in behind, their pace and penetration.
“Those guys are really good players, but tonight I thought they were really on form, and their midfielders' passing and movement was very good as well. We happened to find them on a good night, and they punished us.”
The Galaxy outshot Vancouver, 14-2, in the first half (and 18-11 for the game), and goalkeeper Josh Saunders was tested just once, on a Camilo shot in second-half stoppage.
Magee scored the first goal following a Beckham corner kick, sent deep on the left side of the box for an open Juninho header. That was blocked, and the ball ricocheted around the goalmouth, with David Junior Lopes and Donovan getting off shots.
Whitecaps goalkeeper Joe Cannon spilled the rebound from Donovan's shot, and Magee tucked home the loose ball.
Keane made it 2-0 in the 30th with a sensational goal, taking a feed from Donovan and weaving in the Vancouver box through three defenders -- Gershon Koffie, Lee Young-Pyo and Martin Bonjour -- to slot past Cannon and into the right-side netting.
Keane earned the penalty kick while one-on-one in the box with Jay DeMerit, firing into the defender's arm as he tried to match the Irishman's feints. Donovan's finish made him the third player in MLS history with 120 career regular-season goals.
“[Keane] was very good,” Arena praised. “I think the combination of Robbie and Landon up top was really threatening the entire game. I thought Landon was absolutely fabulous this week. I think our team needs our three Designated Players [Keane, Donovan and Beckham] playing like Designated Players, and they sure did tonight and made a difference.”
L.A. is 13 points off the lead and face San Jose, which grabbed the top spot in the West and in the Supporters' Shield standings with a victory Saturday night at Real Salt Lake, next weekend at Stanford University. They sit one point ahead of Colorado, which had been in fifth place, and Chivas USA.
“A great week. A great end to the week,” Donovan said. “I think we deserved what we got tonight because we put in a lot of work in the last few weeks. ... Unfortunately, we're up against it. We're not in a position to relax and chill out now.”
KEANE'S 'GESTURE': Keane celebrated his goal by holding up a Galaxy jersey on which “RIP James Nolan” was written. Nolan, 21, was an Irish fan in Poland for Euro 2012 who disappeared Sunday and was discovered in a canal Wednesday, victim of an apparently accidental drowning. Keane said he planned to sign the jersey and present it to Nolan's father, whom he spoke with earlier Saturday, sending his condolences.
“It was just a gesture, because the Irish people are very close and they stick with each other through good times and bad times,” Keane said. “He was a big, big soccer fan, and it was a shame, so it was just a show of respect really.”
WORTH NOTING: Donovan is 14 goals off Jeff Cunningham's MLS career regular-season record of 134, which he notched while playing 97 more games (365-268) but 234 more minutes (22,985-22,751). Jaime Moreno is No. 2 on the list with 133 goals. ... Hector Jimenez was back in the lineup, his first start since he was hurt in the U.S. Open Cup loss at Carolina on May 29 -- and his first in MLS since he was red-carded (after scoring) in the May 23 loss to San Jose. ... Palos Verdes' John Thorrington, who has endured myriad injury problems in his career, hobbled off after two minutes in the second half, clutching his right quadriceps, then burying his face in his shirt. ... Beckham picked up his fiifth yellow card of the season in the 10th minute, which would have meant a one-game suspension except he wiped one of them off his record with his third straight cardless game Wednesday. He was fortunate to escape a second yellow card after knocking over Lee in second-half stoppage. ... Cannon tried to play head games with Donovan, his former roommate, on the PK. After Donovan had placed the ball on the spot, the 'Caps' keeper walked forward, picked up the ball and repositioned it. Beckham confronted Cannon, who returned to his net as referee Allen Chapman had words with Beckham.
MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER
Home Depot Center (Carson)
Galaxy 3, Vancouver Whitecaps 0
LA -- Mike Magee 16
LA -- Robbie Keane (Landon Donovan) 30
LA -- Landon Donovan pen. 41
Galaxy: Josh Saunders; Sean Franklin, David Junior Lopes, A.J. DeLaGarza, Todd Dunivant; Hector Jimenez (Michael Stephens, 65), David Beckham, Juninho, Mike Magee (Bryan Jordan, 75); Landon Donovan (Chad Barrett, 90), Robbie Keane. Unused subs: Bryan Gaul, Tommy Meyer, Brian Perk, Marcelo Sarvas.
Vancouver Whitecaps: Joe Cannon; Lee Young-Pyo, Martin Bonjour, Jay DeMerit, Alain Rochat; Gershon Koffie, Jun Davidson (Eric Hassli, 66), John Thorrington (Camilo, 49); Sebastien Le Toux (Michael Nanchoff, 85), Darren Mattocks, Davide Chiumiento. Unused subs: Floyd Franks, Jordan Harvey, Brad Knighton, Carlyle Mitchell.
Yellow cards: Beckham 10, Mattocks 24, Davidson 61, Franklin 69.
Referee: Allen Chapman. Att.: 21,529.
Records: Galaxy 6-8-2, 20 points; Vancouver 7-4-5, 26 points.