CARSON -- Chris Birchall has no illusions about the shot. It wasn't on target, it wasn't close. As Landon Donovan noted after the Galaxy's 1-0 victory Wednesday night over the Houston Dynamo: “I thought that was going to be a throw-in.”
Birchall's blast in the final minute of the first half wasn't close to being on target, but it couldn't have sailed away any better for L.A. It caught Dynamo midfielder Lovel Palmer on the upper arm, in the box, and Donovan converted the resulting penalty kick to send the Western Conference-leading Galaxy (7-2-5) to its third straight victory and fifth in a row without a loss.
Birchall also teamed with right back Sean Franklin to limit Brad Davis' ability to send in crosses from the left flank, preventing Houston from creating much of anything -- and absolutely nothing until the final 10 minutes.
“Bruce [Arena]'s game plan was to try to stop Davis getting on the ball,” Birchall said. “He's probably their key player -- he likes to get crosses in from wherever he is and set up the play.
“[Arena] told me and Sean to try to double up on him, try to not give him space on the ball. Same to other side [against Colin Clark]. I think we did it the good majority of the game.”
Birchall and Michael Stephens, who were “rotated” into the lineup in favor of absent David Beckham and Mike Magee, were outstanding defensively, and Stephens did a lot of nice work in attack, mostly in support of Donovan, who was stationed right behind the strikers. Birchall was on the right flank, where Donovan has been since Beckham was shifted to the middle.
But Birchall's greatest contribution was the wayward shot that found Palmer in the middle of the Dynamo box.
It came from a Donovan ball up the right flank for Juan Pablo Angel, who fed it back to Birchall above the box on the right. The shot was going to be wide by many yards, but maybe not a throw-in, like Donovan suggested.
“It was a mishit, really,” Birchall said. “Just tried to hit it and get it on target with my left foot, and, luckily for us, I think it hit his arm. From where I was, I couldn't really tell, just when the referee gives it. Them ones come out for you sometimes.”
Donovan's penalty easily beat Dynamo goalkeeper Tally Hall, and that was all L.A. needed.
A quick look at the Galaxy's victory:
BEST PLAYER: Nobody brought more energy to the game than Miguel Lopez, who came on for Juan Pablo Angel after an hour. He sparked an opportunity within 15 seconds, played the pivotal role leading to Magee's shot just wide of the right post in the 75th minute, and repeatedly sliced up Houston's defense as nobody else could.
But let's go with Birchall, whose work denying Davis space to operate was flawless, and then there was that blast that resulted in the penalty kick.
BEST GOAL: It was a fine penalty kick, but don't ask Donovan what happened. He doesn't divulge how he prepares from the spot or what he looks for from the goalkeeper, but he read Hall perfectly, slotting the ball to the right side as Houston's netminder went the other way.
BIGGEST STRUGGLE: Neither team was sharp offensively, and although the defensive play certainly had a lot to do with that, there was more to it than just stellar defense.
The Galaxy managed 17 shots, but only three were on frame -- and Donovan's PK was the only shot on goal in the first half.
“I saw we had 17 shots, but you've got to get more on target,” Donovan said. “I think we did a good job of getting to the final third, but I think our final pass or final shot let us down a little bit. If we were a little cleaner and made a better pass or better choice, I think we would have scored two or three goals.”
Houston didn't have a shot on goal, although it got credit for one, by Mike Chabala in the 82nd minute. A long cross from Je-Vaughn Watson left Chabala 1-on-1 with goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts, who knocked it away as Chabala tried to tame the ball.
“Going forward, we didn't do enough in and around the box ...,” Dynamo coach Dominic Kinnear said. “Our passing out of pressure, relieving pressure, is a thing we probably could've done a better job of.”
Ricketts didn't have much to do, and he didn't mind.
“I like these nights,” he said. “Easy work, easy money.”
WORTH NOTING: The Galaxy have shut out successive foes and haven't conceded a goal since Omar Gonzalez's own goal gave Sporting Kansas City a lead late in the first half 11 days ago. The shutout streak is at 231 minutes. … Todd Dunivant played his 200th regular-season game, the 64th player in MLS history to reach that total. It was his 116th regular-season appearance for the Galaxy. … L.A.'s travel roster for this weekend's game at New England was on the board in the locker room following the game. Not on the list: Angel. Bryan Jordan will take his place on the 18-man team.
FINAL JUDGMENT: “We didn't have a long time to prepare this week,” Donovan said. “Houston is a team that creates a lot of chances off their set pieces and crosses, and so you'd like to have time to really prepare and understand what they do, but we knew if we stayed behind the ball and limited their set pieces, it was very unlikely they were going to score.”
NEXT: Saturday at New England, 5 p.m. (Fox Sports West and Galavision)
Home Depot Center (Carson)
Galaxy 1, Houston Dynamo 0
LA -- Landon Donovan pen. 46+
Galaxy: Donovan Ricketts; Sean Franklin, Omar Gonzalez, A.J. DeLaGarza, Todd Dunivant; Chris Birchall (Jovan Kirovski, 91+), Juninho, Landon Donovan, Michael Stephens; Juan Pablo Angel (Mike Magee, 61), Chad Barrett (Miguel Lopez, 74). Unused subs: Gregg Berhalter, Paolo Cardozo, Frankie Hejduk, Josh Saunders.
Houston Dynamo: Tally Hall; Hunter Freeman, Bobby Boswell, Andre Hainault, Corey Ashe (Mike Chabala, 46); Colin Clark, Lovel Palmer, Geoff Cameron, Brad Davis (Je-Vaughn Watson, 61); Koke (Cam Weaver, 74), Will Bruin.
Yellow cards: Franklin 87, Watson 90.
Referee: Chris Penso. Att.: 14,458.