Robbie Keane celebrated his 32nd birthday Sunday with two goals to end a two-game Galaxy skid and restore some of the momentum from that three-game run a couple of weeks ago.
The Irishman might have had a third, but two was more than enough for L.A., which again channeled last year's model in grinding out a 2-0 Major League Soccer victory at Chicago to climb back to fifth place in the Western Conference.
It was all about defense, and the Galaxy (7-10-2, 23 points)-- its usual back four on the field, Omar Gonzalez sent to the bench -- gave its finest defensive performance of the season, keeping things tight at the back and eliminating space for the Fire's vibrant attack, then took its chances well.
“It was a good win ...,” head coach Bruce Arena told media at Toyota Park. “I think we had a good plan coming into the game, and we played pretty solid for 90 minutes. It wasn’t our best game, but it was good enough for three points. But it was a good effort by the group.”
The Galaxy was without David Beckham, serving the second game of a suspension, and Landon Donovan started on the bench after picking up a hamstring strain in Wednesday's loss to Philadelphia, but they prospered through Keane's strikes -- his fifth and sixth goals of the season -- and two superb second-half saves by Josh Saunders.
Keane wasn't particularly sharp, but he drew a questionable first-half penalty to give the Galaxy the lead and finished after some superb work by Donovan in midfield for the second goal with a dozen minutes plus stoppage to play, and that was enough.
“You get the ball to that guy anywhere near the goal, he's going to score more often than not,” said Donovan, who was a spark after coming off the bench in the 65th minute.
Keane converted a 24th-minute penalty kick, firing in off the right post, after his cross from just left of Chicago's box caught defender Jalil Anibaba's hand on the edge of the box. It was clearly an infraction, but Anibaba's arm might have been outside the box when contact was made.
The Fire had more of the ball -- 60 percent possession -- and managed 14 shots and 10 corner kicks, but they couldn't create space for speedy forward Dominic Oduro, who departed after 66 frustrating minutes, nor winger Patrick Nyarko. The shutout was L.A.'s third in the past six games.
“They're good attacking players, and we're certainly aware of their speed,” Arena said. “What your trying to do is keep them in front of you as much as you can. I think our backline did a good job for the most part.”
Said Nyarko: “I think that there was a couple factors, but most of all I think L.A. did great, and we had a bad day. ... They came with a great plan that took us out of our element by stepping high and tried to win every ball played into the middle. They did a great job of that. We just couldn’t get going after they surprised us with that kind of play.”
Anibaba should have done better with an open shot after David Junior Lopes nodded away Austin Berry's header from a corner kick in the 11th minute. Saunders parried a Pavel Pardo free kick headed to the upper-left corner four minutes into the second half.
The victory was cemented with about 15 minutes to go. Saunders dove to push aside a shielded Chris Rolfe shot headed for the lower-left corner. A minute later, Donovan stripped Rolfe in midfield to start a 2-on-2 counter, and when Pavel Pardo chose to join Anibaba in pressuring Donovan, it left Keane alone to the left.
He took the feed from Donovan, took the ball to the box and beat goalkeeper Sean Johnson to the near post.
Keane should have had another in the 85th, when an exquisite Donovan cross from the right flank found him in step alone atop the box. He couldn't quite corral it, and the chance expired without a shot.
Keane was fine with just two goals.
“Of course, we always want to score as many goals as you possibly can,” he said, “but the most important thing is the team and getting three points on the board.”
WORTH NOTING: Beckham spent his suspension at Wimbledon with his wife, Victoria, watching his countryman Andy Murray lose to Roger Federer in the men's final. ... Juninho was cautioned for dissent in the 14th minute to pick up a suspension for yellow-card accumulation and will sit out next week's match at Vancouver. The Brazilian midfielder exited the game in the 73rd minute with a hamstring injury. ... Arena, on why he didn't play Gonzalez, who returned from an ACL tear with 45 minutes against Philadelphia: “Given the conditions, the travel and the heat, we decided to hold him back this game to give him a little bit more time. We just want to be safe with him. He’s getting there. He obviously played the other day, but we want to slowly build his minutes and bring him back at the right time.” ... Rookie defender Bryan Gaul made his sixth first-team appearance, coming on for Juninho. was hurt. Second-year winger Hector Jimenez made his fourth straight start. ... Woodland Hills' Orr Barouch was a late substitute for Chicago. ... All 11 Galaxy road games this season have been sellouts. Only four of 11 home games count as such.
MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER
Toyota Park (Bridgeview, Ill.)
Chicago Fire 0, Galaxy 2
LA -- Robbie Keane pen. 24
LA -- Robbie Keane (Landon Donovan) 78
Galaxy: Josh Saunders; Sean Franklin, David Junior Lopes, A.J. DeLaGarza, Todd Dunivant; Hector Jimenez (Bryan Jordan, 60), Juninho (Bryan Gaul, 73), Marcelo Sarvas, Michael Stephens; Chad Barrett (Landon Donovan, 65), Robbie Keane. Unused subs: Omar Gonzalez, Mike Magee, Tommy Meyer, Brian Perk.
Chicago Fire: Sean Johnson; Jalil Anibaba, Arne Friedrich, Austin Berry, Gonzalo Segares; Logan Pause (Alex, 46), Pavel Pardo; Patrick Nyarko, Chris Rolfe (Orr Barouch, 79), Marco Pappa; Dominic Oduro (Rafael Robayo, 67). Unused subs: Dan Gargan, Hunter Jumper, Jay Nolly, Daniel Paladini.
Yellow cards: Lopes 14, Juninho 14, Pappa 69.
Referee: Jair Marrufo. Att.: 20,563.
Records: Chicago 8-6-4, 28 points; Galaxy 7-10-2, 23 points.