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If last weekend's victory over Portland wasn't evidence enough that the Galaxy finally is turning their awful campaign into something promising, consider what Major League Soccer's reigning champions pulled off Wednesday night against Real Salt Lake.
Down by two goals after 24 minutes ... on the road ... at 4,550 feet ... against the best team in the league ... the Galaxy took advantage of two gifts, took charge, and walked away with a remarkable 3-2 triumph.
Landon Donovan scored two goals, the first after picking off an lazy, thoughtless back pass from Tony Beltran and the 68th-minute winner from Mike Magee's superb ball behind RSL's backline, and L.A. allowed its host only five shots on goal to improve to 5-8-2 and climb within two points of fifth place, the cutoff for playoff berths.
Before Sunday, the Galaxy had spent a month in the Western Conference cellar. With a win Saturday over Vancouver at Home Depot Center, they could be back in contention.
“I think we're moving up the ladder a little bit,” coach Bruce Arena told the media scrum at Rio Tinto Stadium. “Three games ago, we were sitting in a difficult position, and now we've got six points in two games, and certainly we want to get another three on Saturday, aand that would put us in a decent position as we try to deal with the second half of the season.
“This week would indicate that things are moving in the right direction. But there's a lot of season left, and hopefully we can get better.”
The points are sure important, but it's the how of the victories, more so than the wins themselves, that signal something is afoot. The Galaxy, so poor most of the first three months of the season, are finally clicking on attack, defending as a unit and playing with great energy and selflessness -- all despite missing nearly a third of the roster for one reason or another.
They didn't let down after Fabian Espindola set up Kyle Beckerman in the ninth minute nor when he fed Alvaro Saborio for the second goal in the 24th, a sharp contrast to much of what's passed this year.
“It was quite a rough start [tonight] for us,” said Magee, who scored the equalizer in the 50th minute after Donovan's pressure forced a turnover on RSL's backline. “If we kind of continued the path of what we did early in the season, we would have lost that game, 5-0. We fought hard and we stuck together and showed some signs of 2011.”
Especially so with their mentality.
“Even though they scored those two goals, we didn’t feel bad about how we were playing,” said Donovan, who was masterful atop a fluid formation that was generally a 4-4-1-1 or a 4-2-3-1. “So the energy was still good, the commitment was still there, and then, obviously, you have to get that first goal to get back in the game. And It was a little bit of gift but you’ve got to take advantage of it. ...
“I saw we limited them to five shots on goal, which here at Rio Tinto is, I think, a pretty remarkable accomplishment. I just thought our attitude and our effort and our commitment was great. It wasn’t perfect all of the time, but some guys made some big plays.”
Real Salt Lake (10-4-2), which sits atop the Western Conference and Supporters' Shield standings, rued the mistakes, by Beltran and on Nat Borchers' attempted pass to Jamison Olave, that led to the first two goals.
“It’s pretty bewildering to be up, 2-0, and lose the game, 3-2,” Borchers said. “I think we made some mistakes, and I think we all know we made some bad mistakes in terms of our possession, and they made us pay. Let’s give them some credit.”
Said RSL coach Jason Kreis: “Ultimately, I think [the breakdowns were] our demise. Tony makes a really lax pass to Nick [Rimando] that Landon steals, and then the momentum just shifted completely. ... I think there were a lot of guys feeling so disappointed about it that we didn’t recover the way we needed to. and in the second half another giveaway leads to a goal. so it’s disappointing. I’d like to make L.A. make their own goals, not necessarily give them to them.”
The Galaxy heads home in their best spirits since winning MLS Cup seven months ago, but there's plenty still to be done. RSL had 15 points more than L.A. does -- five full games -- and getting into the top three in the West, to avoid a wild-card playoff, isn't going to be easy.
“When we were walking back in the locker room [after the game], we had a ton of confidence,” Magee said, “and then somebody showed us a picture of the standings, and we’re still in last place -- or third to last -- so we got brought back down to earth real quick.”
Said Donovan: “We’re not going to get carried away over two wins now. We’ve had a really poor start to the season, so we’ve got a lot of ground to make up. We’re real envious of the position Salt Lake is in, and that’s where we feel we should be. So we need to do our part to keep winning games. We can worry about everything else later, but we’ve got to keep winning games and keep the momentum going.”