VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- The Galaxy had all of the ball but none of the chances for the first 30 minutes Saturday, but as their most pivotal player's involvement in the proceedings increased, so did their dominance.
Landon Donovan scored two goals, set up another and provided the tactical shift that sent L.A. to a 4-0 rout of the Vancouver Whitecaps, a triumph fueled by a terrific final hour -- perhaps the Galaxy's best sustained soccer of the season.
It turned a vibrant match featuring end-to-end action, both ways for a time, into a most one-sided affair as L.A. (12-2-9) began a two-game Pacific Northwest trek by matching their best output of the season with their most emphatic triumph.
All four goals came in the second half, with Donovan -- returning to the field after missing last weekend's friendly against Manchester City and Wednesday's Major League Soccer All-Star Game because of a calf strain -- scoring superbly from Sean Franklin's long ball in the 61st minute and converting a penalty kick in the 75th, then setting up Franklin for No. 3 in the 80th. Adam Cristman's fortuitous header in the 90th completed the romp.
It was closer than the score suggests, and better aim might have given the Whitecaps (2-11-9) an upset, but the Galaxy took charge about a half-hour in, created myriad chances and was certain of victory once Donovan netted his first.
“First half, I thought Landon was quiet,” Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said. “Second half, he was real loud.”
The goals were his 10th and 11th of the season, pulling him even with New York's Thierry Henry for the top spot among Major League Soccer's scorers, but more important was the impact he had ripping apart a Whitecaps backline that had done well to limit the Galaxy's chances despite a serious advantage in possession.
L.A. had almost all of the ball through 30 minutes but never seriously tested goalkeeper Joe Cannon. Vancouver created eight solid opportunities in that span -- and several more to start the second half, the best Shea Salinas' deposit off the left post after a weaving run to the top of the Galaxy box after a giveaway.
Juninho twice forced diving saves from Cannon, who did well to keep out shots by Juan Pablo Angel and Mike Magee, too.
“I thought it looked like we were a little tired in the beginning,” defender Gregg Berhalter said. “Then we settled in, got our second wind. When we control the game and we look for a quick switch of the attack, we're really dangerous.”
Angel, who struggled to connect with teammates in the first half but was involved after halftime, until exiting in the 67th minute, said Empire Field's artificial turf slowed down L.A. at the start.
“I think it's normal.” he said. “It takes a little bit of time to get used to the field, the surface, but then we managed to be accurate with the passing, and when we got the movement right, we were very dangerous. ... And when Landon scored the first goal, it was just game over.”
Arena said the Galaxy's “ball movement was the key to the game. We passed better and we got out of pressure better. In the first 30 minutes, we were turned over in the middle third of the field, and they were dangerous on the counter. But as our passing got better, we got into a rhythm.”
A quick look at the Galaxy's victory:
BEST PLAYER: Donovan was magnificent in the second half, especially after moving into the middle about 10 minutes or so into the second half because, Arena said, “I thought we needed a little bit more pace up top to get behind.”
He scored one superb goal, converted a penalty kick and set up Franklin's second goal in as many games (and in a 3½-year MLS career) with a perfect ball across the goalmouth to the far post.
His move from the left flank into the center gave Vancouver's backline “a little different look, and it gave us the ability to get behind them,” Donovan said. “I think everything we did was in front of them, for the most part, so it made it pretty easy on their back four, but when we were able to turn them around and make them defend the space behind them, they really struggled.”
Also really good for L.A.: goalkeeper Josh Saunders, especially in the first half-hour, center back Omar Gonzalez, Franklin on the right side of midfield and Michael Stephens in central midfield.
Davide Chiumiento was brilliant most of the way for the Whitecaps (“I was really impressed,” Donovan noted. “I'd seen him on TV, but never in person”), who also received strong showings from wingers Camilo and Salinas, forward Eric Hassli and Cannon, who kept Vancouver in the game as long as he could.
BEST GOAL: The first one, as Arena put it, “broke [the Whitecaps'] backs,” and it was as pretty as any goal can be when the chief defender tumbles to the turf. Rookie center back Michael Boxall, from UC Santa Barbara, slipped on the fake turf as Franklin's fine ball from beyond the midfield stripe sailed over his head and onto the streaking Donovan's chest.
With Boxall prone, Donovan raced in one-on-one with Cannon, a former teammate. You might expect him to roll the ball clinically inside one post or the other, which would be impressive enough, but instead the Galaxy's captain blistered the ball past the 'Caps' 'keeper and into the twine.
“Did I know [I'd score when Boxall fell]? You never know,” Donovan said. “But I knew that was our chance to break through. It was a good ball from Sean, and I made really good contact with it.”
BIGGEST STRUGGLE: One local boy endured a nightmare.
Whitecaps left back Jordan Harvey, from Mission Viejo, was responsible for the penalty kick that put the game out of reach (catching with his arm Todd Dunivant's cross into the box, which wasn't so dangerous), was beaten by Franklin to Donovan's ball for the third goal, then failed to clear the Whitecaps' box, instead heading the ball up and to Cristman, whose header arced neatly over Cannon and into the net.
WORTH NOTING: David Beckham, who didn't travel to B.C., and Chris Birchall, who did (and who figures to feature in Sunday morning's Reserve League meeting with the 'Caps), have finished their suspensions and are expected to be ready for Wednesday's game at Portland. ... Cristman's goal was his first in league play for the Galaxy and his fifth in all games. He has scored twice in the Reserve League and once each in the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal loss to Seattle and the friendly against Real Madrid. ... Rookie midfielder Dan Keat made his MLS debut, coming on for Stephens in the 85th minute. Keat was on the 18-man game roster for the first time. ... Rookie winger Hector Jimenez was on the 18 for the third successive game, but he's still looking for his first MLS action. ... Empire Field might be the most breathtaking setting in MLS, with a magnificent mountain range to the north.
FINAL JUDGMENT: “It was good,” Arena said. “We've played pretty well in some games but probably came away without the result we needed on the road or possibly at home or didn't get the second goal to really pull away from teams. We've played well in segments, but this is probably the best we've played in the last, oh, 10 games.”
NEXT: Wednesday at Portland, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
Empire Field (Vancouver)
Vancouver Whitecaps 0, Galaxy 4
LA -- Landon Donovan (Sean Franklin) 61
LA -- Landon Donovan pen,. 75
LA -- Sean Franklin (Landon Donovan) 80
LA -- Adam Cristman 90
Vancouver Whitecaps: Joe Cannon; Jonathan Leathers (Peter Vagenas, 73), Michael Boxall, Alain Rochat, Jordan Harvey; Shea Salinas, Gershon Koffie, Davide Chiumiento (Michael Nanchoff, 81), Camilo; Mustopha Jarju (Nizar Khalfan, 62), Eric Hassli.
Galaxy: Josh Saunders; A.J. DeLaGarza, Omar Gonzalez, Gregg Berhalter, Todd Dunivant; Sean Franklin, Juninho, Michael Stephens (Dan Keat, 85), Landon Donovan (Miguel Lopez, 85); Juan Pablo Angel (Adam Cristman, 67), Mike Magee. Unused subs: Paolo Cardozo, Hector Jimenez, Bryan Jordan, Brian Perk.
Yellow card: Stephens 65.
Referee: Baldomero Toledo. Att.: 27,500.