CARSON -- The Galaxy are deep into their transition from woeful underachievers to Major League Soccer title contenders, and although the cast of contributors is steadily growing -- just like last year -- it's the three Designated Players who have made the difference.
It was so again Saturday night, when L.A. pounded archrival Chivas USA, 3-1, as Landon Donovan scored a pair of goals, Robbie Keane added another plus an assist, and David Beckham picked up two assists in front of 25,180 at Home Depot Center.
The Galaxy (9-10-3, 30 points) have won six of nine games since returning in mid-June from Major League Soccer's three-week World Cup qualifying break -- they probably should have won the three they didn't -- to cement their hold on fifth place in the Western Conference, building a seven-point cushion on the Goats (6-8-5, 23 points) and eight on Colorado (7-13-1, 22 points). Fifth place, of course, gets the final playoff berth.
“We're getting there,” said Donovan, who netted his eighth and ninth goals of the season and his sixth and seventh in the past nine games. “We've gotten better and better. ... I think we're getting there. I think we're starting to figure out what combination of guys on the field play well together and work well, and a lot of guys are doing a lot of dirty work to make plays so that the few of us can just focus on getting in front of the goal and scoring.”
The Galaxy has 22 goals in their last eight games after scoring just 16 in their first 14, and Donovan, Keane and Beckham have scored 17 of them (with 12 assists, too). They're more explosive than they were at any point in last year's championship run, and if the defensive lapses can be conquered -- Omar Gonzalez saw his second action of the season, a real plus in this regard -- L.A. might be the team to beat again come November.
Keane scored in the 14th minute from a Beckham through ball, netted another six minutes later from Donovan's through ball -- that one was waved off by an offside call that replays suggested was in error -- then fed Donovan's sprint for the second goal three minutes into the second half. Donovan, who twice hit posts, secured all three points from a scramble following a Beckham corner kick in the 78th minute.
“I think [Keane and Donovan] combined for a number of opportunities tonight and were outstanding, and certainly David as well with that group ...” Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said. “We're scoring an awful lot of goals [with Donovan partnering Keane at forward], right? It's been pretty damn good. It really has.”
Former Galaxy midfielder Paolo Cardozo scored his first MLS goal in the 52nd minute for Chivas, firing just inside the right post from the top of the box with L.A. goalkeeper Josh Saunders screened from the shot. Chivas had more chances, but none of them particularly dangerous.
The first two Galaxy goals came off Chivas turnovers. On the first, Beckham tracked back following a corner kick, forcing Blair Gavin into a giveaway. Hector Jimenez dispossessed Cardozo to start the sequence for the second.
“They're a good enough team that they don't need any help ...” Chivas coach Robin Fraser said. “I certainly feel like a lot of their opportunities came off our turnovers or not being clean enough with the ball. Obviously, they have some very good attacking players, and if you give them the opportunity to be dangerous, they're going to be dangerous.”
WORTH NOTING: Donovan will miss next weekend's game at FC Dallas after receiving his fifth yellow card of the season early in the second half. Beckham picked up his team-most seventh caution for chirping at referee Jorge Gonzalez in the 32nd minute. Two more and he'll serve a second suspension for yellow-card accumulation. ... The Galaxy wore their black uniforms with gold trim for the fourth time. They debuted the look in last year's Fourth of July game against Seattle, then wore the kit for the friendlies against Real Madrid and Manchester City. The plan is to wear them again in Tuesday's HDC friendly against Tottenham. ... Left back Todd Dunivant, who exited Wednesday's win at Vancouver with a calf strain, was a scratch, with rookie Bryan Gaul making his fourth MLS start. Gaul got an assist on Donovan's second goal, and so did Gonzalez. ... Chad Barrett returned from a week on trial at Valerenga in Norway. The striker, whose contract is up at the end of the season, was invited to train with the club as he surveys his options, and the Galaxy gave their blessings. ... Among those in the hallways outside the locker rooms after the game were former U.S. national team coach Bora Milutinovic, Clippers guard Chauncey Billups and Cal State Fullerton men's head coach Bob Ammann.
MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER
Home Depot Center
Galaxy 3, Chivas USA 1
LA -- Robbie Keane (David Beckham, Juninho) 14
LA -- Landon Donovan (Robbie Keane, David Beckham) 48
C -- Paolo Cardozo (Ryan Smith) 52
LA -- Landon Donovan (Bryan Gaul, Omar Gonzalez)
Galaxy: Josh Saunders; Sean Franklin, A.J. DeLaGarza, David Junior Lopes, Bryan Gaul; Hector Jimenez (Omar Gonzalez, 68), David Beckham, Juninho, Marcelo Sarvas (Michael Stephens, 81); Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane. Unused subs: Bryan Jordan, Jack McBean, Tommy Meyer, Brian Perk, Jose Villarreal.
Chivas USA: Dan Kennedy; James Riley, Danny Califf, Rauwshan McKenzie, Ante Jazic; Ben Zemanski, Nick LaBrocca; Ryan Smith (Juan Pablo Angel, 57), Blair Gavin (Paolo Cardozo, 46), Miller Bolaņos; Jose Erik Correa. Unused subs: Tim Melia, Alejandro Moreno, Casey Townsend, John Alexander Valencia, Jorge Villafaņa.
Yellow cards: Smith 18, Beckham 32, Zemanski 36, McKenzie 46, Donovan 53.
Referee: Jorge Gonzalez. Att.: 25,180.
Records: Galaxy 9-10-3, 30 points; Chivas USA 6-8-5, 23 points.