COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The Galaxy were going to be very pleased to escape Crew Stadium with a draw Saturday night, especially after the onslaught they withstood over the final frightful minutes.
Then they demonstrated, again, why they're Major League Soccer's premier club.
In the matter of seconds, a midfield header fed a Landon Donovan volley, the rebound fell to Chad Barrett, and his volley in the third minute of stoppage turned a scoreless tie into a most improbable 1-0 triumph over the Columbus Crew.
And it also might have settled the Supporters' Shield race.
The Galaxy, with a makeshift lineup missing David Beckham, Robbie Keane and, until the 62nd minute, Donovan, gave a game effort but needed some late magic to claim their 17th victory, maintain a seven-point lead in the Western Conference and create an opportunity, with just a little aid, to clinch the regular-season trophy next weekend with a victory at Home Depot Center over Real Salt Lake.
It required another huge game from goalkeeper Josh Saunders, a save on the goal line by Michael Stephens, some heady play by homecoming king Frankie Hejduk and Barrett's finish at the end.
“Let me tell you,” head coach Bruce Arena said, “between the 85th and 92nd [minutes], if you tell me would you take a point, I would have gladly taken it.”
Barrett, who came off the bench in the 84th minute, overshadowed a superb performance by another second-half substitute, Emilio Renteria, who spearheaded a Crew attack that created eight scoring chances -- to none by L.A. -- between the 70th and 90th minutes and was unfortunate not to find the net.
Saunders made five superb stops, the two best on Andres Mendoza, and Stephens kept out a Chad Marshall header from a corner kick that beat Saunders in the 48th minute -- the play of the game before Barrett's strike.
“Sometimes I'm there to save it, sometimes they're their to save it,” Saunders said. “I can't say enough about his concentration on the play. Calm and collected, and just played the ball away.”
Arena, coming off a tough CONCACAF Champions League loss three nights earlier in Costa Rica and facing a must-win clash with Mexico's Morelia on Wednesday in the regional championship, heavily rotated his lineup. Beckham headed home to L.A. after the team arrived Thursday in Columbus, Keane was kept out with a strained gluteal muscle, and iron-man left back Todd Dunivant was given a rest, his first minutes off all season.
Donovan and first-choice midfielder Mike Magee also started on the bench, although both came on in the second half.
“We played a number of guys who haven't played a lot of minutes lately, and they were fantastic,” Donovan said. “And I think you're seeing the difference now between us and other [MLS] teams in the Champions League, that we have at least 20 guys who can come in and do a job, and other teams don't, and that's a real benefit for us.”
L.A. also benefits from two other results Saturday. Real Salt Lake (15-8-6) is 10 points back after a 4-1 loss at D.C. United, and their ceiling, now 66 points, is seven beneath the Galaxy's. FC Dallas (13-10-7) was eliminated from the Shield race with a 1-0 loss to Houston.
Seattle (15-6-9), 3-1 winners at Vancouver, also have a seven-point ceiling deficit, and if the Galaxy wins next Saturday and the Sounders fail to beat New England, the Shield stays with L.A.
“Our focus now is on Wednesday,” Donovan said. “Put everything into Wednesday. It's a must-win game, and then a big one against Salt Lake. And we think if we can win that game Saturday, the Supporters' Shield is ours, so this is a big week for us.”
A quick look at the Galaxy's victory:
BEST PLAYER: The match changed with Renteria's insertion in the 65th minute. The Venezuelan forward, attacking primarily on the right flank, took over the match, surging forward to create chances for Mendoza and Robbie Rogers and testing Saunders with some blistering shots, primarily from abrupt angles.
It was a sensational performance in Renteria's return from a concussion that sidelined him Columbus' previous two games -- the latest in a series of injuries that has limited the would-be superstar to 13 games this season.
“When Emilio came in, I think the game came alive ...,” Crew coach Robert Warzycha said. “Obviously, he's not fit for 90 minutes, but for the 30 minutes he was on the field, I think he gave us a lot.”
“He put a spark in Mendoza as well,” the Galaxy forward said. “They started linking up really well. It was a hard fire to put out.”
Crew center back Julius James, too, was very good, and so was Riverside's Chad Marshall, his partner. Galaxy rookie Paolo Cardozo's quick feet and silky touch, employed in Beckham's spot, impressed in the first half, and Stephens' and Saunders' showings were highlights for L.A.
BEST GOAL: Barrett's was one of the nicest L.A. has scored all year, if not from an artistic standpoint, then certainly in terms of drama -- and importance. After the Real Salt Lake result, this win should secure the Supporters' Shield.
It occurred following a Crew clearance. Omar Gonzalez, just beyond the midfield line, wasn't challenged by Mendoza for a header, and he looped the ball toward the Columbus box. It seemed to catch James off guard, and bounced perfectly for Donovan, whose blistering volley from the right was parried by Crew goalkeeper Will Hesmer.
Barrett, to the left, was positioned perfectly for the rebound, catching it in the air with his left foot and firing into the open net.
“Just being opportunistic is what it comes down to ...,” Barrett said. “If I hadn't finished that, I'd pretty much hate myself.”
The goal was his fifth of the season -- and his first in league play since mid-June, although he scored in the Aug. 25 victory over Alajuelense in the Champions League.
BIGGEST STRUGGLE: The Galaxy, even with so much rotation, was exhausted, and they were dragging the last 10 or 15 minutes. The Crew had five legitimate scoring chances -- four of them really fine -- from the 85th to the 89th minute.
Saunders was critical to weathering the onslaught, and then, in a matter of seconds, everything changed.
“At one point, we took a breath,” Renteria said, “and that’s when they scored. Unfortunately, when you’re trying to score, that’s when you get scored on sometimes, and that’s what happened tonight.”
WORTH NOTING: The shutout was the Galaxy's 16th of the season, one off the record set by Kansas City, in 32 games, en route to its 2000 MLS Cup title. ... Chris Birchall suffered a strained hamstring. Donovan replaced him on the right flank, then moved to forward a couple of minutes later when Magee came on. ... Jordan saw his first professional action at left back. ... Arena elected to keep Dasan Robinson and Dustin McCarty out of the 18, so only rookie winger Hector Jimenez was in position to make his MLS debut. ... Columbus (11-11-8) dropped to second place in the Eastern Conference with Houston's win over FC Dallas, which ended about 90 minutes before the game began. ... The sellout crowd was 21,203, the largest of the season for the Crew -- their biggest since October 2008, when 22,685 came out to see L.A. ... The Galaxy's charter flight home was grounded because of mechanical problems, and the team is scheduled to fly home Sunday morning. ... Chris Wondolowski scored his 32nd career goal for San Jose in a 1-1 draw with Colorado, pulling into a tie with Donovan for the No. 2 spot on the franchise list.
FINAL JUDGMENT: “We were certainly fortunate to get that goal at the end ...,” Arena said. “The last 10 minutes got crazy. We hit the wall physically, the Crew created some chances, Saunders came up big, but I thought on the night we played well, and we got a real good effort out of a bunch of players.
“It was a real positive to be able to rotate some players, and to get this win on the road is huge. I can't tell you how pleased I am with the team.”
NEXT: Wednesday in a CONCACAF Champions League game vs. Morelia (Mexico) at Home Depot Center (Carson), 7 p.m. (Fox Soccer Channel). Next league game: Saturday, Oct. 1, vs. Real Salt Lake at Home Depot Center, 7:30 p.m. (Prime Ticket).
Crew Stadium (Columbus, Ohio)
Columbus Crew 0, Galaxy 1
LA -- Chad Barrett 93+
Columbus Crew: Will Hesmer; Sebastian Miranda, Chad Marshall, Julius James, Shaun Francis; Robbie Rogers, Danny O'Rourke, Emmanuel Ekpo, Josh Gardner (Emilio Renteria 65); Dilly Duka (Cole Grossman, 89); Andres Mendoza.
Galaxy: Josh Saunders; Frankie Hejduk, Omar Gonzalez, A.J. DeLaGarza, Bryan Jordan; Chris Birchall (Landon Donovan, 62), Paolo Cardozo, Juninho, Michael Stephens; Adam Cristman (Chad Barrett, 84), Miguel Lopez (Mike Magee, 68). Unused subs: Todd Dunivant, Hector Jimenez, Jovan Kirovski, Brian Perk.
Yellow cards: Ekpo 32, James 57, Hejduk 90.
Referee: Silviu Petrescu. Att.: 21,203.