The Galaxy's available manpower Sunday might have been whittled by injury, suspension and decisions to rest a couple of players for the grind ahead, but their second-choice lineup delivered perhaps the best performance of the young campaign.
Miguel Lopez set up both goals, by Chad Barrett just before halftime and Omar Gonzalez in the 72nd minute, in a 2-1 victory at Chicago to wrap a wild, rarely wonderful three-game trek east that secured five points.
L.A. (3-1-3, 12 points) pulls even on points with Western Conference leader Real Salt Lake (4-0-0). The Fire (1-3-1) are at the bottom of the Eastern Conference.
If the absences of starting midfielders Landon Donovan, David Beckham and Juninho, among others, weren't enough, Galaxy coach Bruce Arena chose to leave superstar striker Juan Pablo Angel and right-flank standout Sean Franklin out of his starting XI, giving first starts to Paolo Cardozo and Frankie Hejduk.
But the L.A. lineup responded with an energetic performance that fueled a decent number of scoring chances and an outstanding defensive effort that probably deserved a clean sheet. Barrett scored a fine goal against his former club, his first strike with the Galaxy, and towering defender Gonzalez headed home a corner kick for the would-be winner. Dominic Oduro scored in the 89th minute for Chicago.
A quick look at the Galaxy's victory:
BEST PLAYER: The Fire had to be wary of Lopez every time he touched the ball, and their best answer more often than not was to spill the Argentine forward before he could get into dangerous positions or exploit space to give teammates chances.
His delivery from the right wing for Barrett's goal was delicious, splitting three defenders with a ball that the big forward admitted “surprised me” and left him no choice but to finish. The corner kick, too, was well-taken, pinpointed onto the head of the 6-foot-5 Gonzalez.
He also set up Cardozo's chance in the 17th minute and tested Fire goalkeeper Jon Conway with a twisting shot from distance that sailed wide in the 34th.
Who else did we like? Barrett, as he did in Toronto, looked good. Leonardo was solid in the back, even if his unfortunate slip opened the path for Oduro's goal. And the most impactful player in the game, easily, was Chicago winger Marco Pappa, who was involved in everything the Fire accomplished but could have been a little sharper.
BEST GOAL: As nice as Barrett's opener was, how can it compare to Oduro's strike? The speedy Ghanaian took a long clearance up the right wing from Jalil Anibaba, burst into the open when Leonardo slipped while challenging at the sideline, streaked into the box with the backpedaling Gonzalez trying to kill his angle, then fired from a difficult angle across goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts and inside the far post. Just terrific.
BIGGEST STRUGGLE: For the Galaxy, it was putting together a lineup. Or so it seemed.
Donovan missed the trip because of a bruised knee. Beckham was suspended for drawing too many yellow cards, Juninho for getting two in Wednesday's draw at Toronto, and veteran midfield reserve Jovan Kirovski for a postgame red card after the ridiculous penalty kick in D.C. Two others, including projected backline starter Gregg Berhalter, are out with longstanding injuries.
L.A. took 20 players on the trip, so after deciding not to replace the banned three with any of the young reserves left home, there were 17 players available for the game, including all three goalkeepers. That means their bench was one player short -- but really two players short, since the subs list usually has six field players and one goalkeeper.
Arena's XI, however, wasn't a bad group. The back five lost little with veteran Hejduk's inclusion, and by the finish it was the first-choice unit (non-Berhalter version) with Franklin at right back.
Barrett and Lopez have partnered Angel in attack, and they seemed to have better chemistry than either has demonstrated with the star Colombian. Birchall was on the right flank, which might be his position to win with Beckham targeted for the middle. Cardozo, Michael Stephens and Mike Magee are regulars off the bench.
WORTH NOTING: Both sides finished with 10 men after players limped off injured after substitutions had been exhausted. Leonardo left late in stoppage after hurting his right knee in a collision with Oduro. Chicago defender Cory Gibbs appeared to pull his hamstring in the 70th minute, seconds after the Fire made its final change. … Cardozo departed with a sore wrist hurt when he was tackled early in the second half by Pappa, but a Galaxy spokesman said he was fine. … Ricketts wore the captain's armband for the Galaxy. … Upland's Davis Paul made his first league start for the Fire on the right side of midfield, but he wasn't involved much and was replaced at halftime.
NEXT: L.A. plays Saturday against Portland at Home Depot Center, 8 p.m. (TV: Fox Soccer Channel).
Toyota Park (Bridgeview, Ill.)
Chicago Fire 1, Galaxy 2
G -- Chad Barrett (Miguel Lopez) 42
G -- Omar Gonzalez (Miguel Lopez 72
C -- Dominic Oduro (Jalil Anibaba) 89
Chicago Fire: Jon Conway; Jalil Anibaba, Josip Mikulic, Cory Gibbs, Gonzalo Segares; Davis Paul (Patrick Nyarko, 46), Michael Videira (Dominic Oduro, 59), Logan Pause, Marco Pappa; Gaston Puerari (Orr Barouch, 70), Diego Chaves.
Galaxy: Donovan Ricketts; Frankie Hejduk (Bryan Jordan, 80), Omar Gonzalez, Leonardo, Todd Dunivant; Chris Birchall, Michael Stephens, Paolo Cardozo (Sean Franklin, 68), Mike Magee; Miguel Lopez, Chad Barrett (Juan Pablo Angel, 77). Unused subs: A.J. DeLaGarza, Brian Perk, Josh Saunders.
Yellow cards: Videira 10, Magee 31, Stephens 63, Hejduk 74, Oduro 93+.
Referee: Niko Bratsis. Att.: 18,203.