GALAXY: Portland win breeds belief

CARSON -- The Galaxy had spent nearly a month in the Western Conference cellar before Sunday afternoon's victory over the Portland Timbers, but the weight of their performance -- and the circumstances in which it was achieved -- has them thinking the fever finally has broken.

They shook off injuries, suspensions and one big-name absentee on international duty that had whittled their roster by a third and forced them into a makeshift formation featuring just one forward, producing their finest 90 minutes of the campaign in a 1-0 triumph at Home Depot Center that halted an eight-game winless streak in all competitions.

It's a nice foundation to build upon.

“You look at it now, we're five points out of the playoffs with 20 games left,” said left back Todd Dunivant, who headed home a 61st-miunute David Beckham corner kick for the goal. “For as poorly as we started, you look at it that way, and there's a lot of optimism in this locker room.”

The playoffs haven't been in sight since March, when the Galaxy stumbled at the start, then drifted lower and lower. They were at the bottom of the Western standings after the first week and again in March, and a long string of failures starting in late April led to three straight losses in when they'd taken first half leads, then given them back near the finish.

This time everything seemed to click, from the dynamic midfield triangle -- with Beckham, Juninho and the marvelous Marcelo Sarvas -- that replaced L.A.'s customary 4-4-2 alignment to a backline that neither bent nor broke while posting the club's first shutout in seven months.

“We made the little plays and didn't let ourselves down, like we had been,” noted Dunivant. Landon Donovan agreed.

“We got back to doing things that make a difference,” said the Galaxy captain, who nearly gave L.A. an early lead, blasting a deflected cross from Bryan Jordan off the right post from 22 yards in the 15th minute. “It wasn't pretty, but we made a lot of real good plays on both sides of the ball that make a difference. I can’t look at any one guy and say, 'He didn't perform well, and he didn't give it everything he had.' It's a good building block.

“Let's not get carried away. It's one win, but a good win and everyone feels good about it, and to get a shutout against what I think is a good offensive team is a plus.”

The Galaxy are still closer to the bottom than to the top -- they're just one point above Portland and FC Dallas, the only teams below them in the West -- and losses Wednesday at Real Salt Lake and Saturday at HDC against Vancouver could drop them back into the basement, depending on what the Timbers and Hoops accomplish next weekend. But the overwhelming sentiment within the club is that things are starting to go the right way.

“We just have to build on [this win], simple as that,” Beckham said. “Last season we played a lot of games like this where we won, 1-nil, and we kept the other team [scoreless]. We need more performances like this, and we're capable of it, so, hopefully, this will be our springboard.”

Bruce Arena believes it was coming before Major League Soccer's mini-break for international games, which kept L.A. and most of its rivals sidelined for two weekends.

As he addressed the media in his postgame news conference, the Galaxy's coach's thoughts turned to a game 3½ weeks ago, a 3-2 loss to San Jose in their last home game before facing Portland. The Galaxy scored early, added a second goal with about 20 minutes to go, then watched the Earthquakes score three after the 75th minute, with longtime L.A. forward Alan Gordon heading home the winner in stoppage.

“We played real well in that game,” Arena said. “We played real well for 75 minutes and obviously made a few mistakes that cost us. And then the Houston [loss three days later in triple-digit Texas heat], I don't even count that. That was a horrible situation to put players on either team in.

“But last time we played at home, we played very well. Then the guys that went on the road for the U.S. Open Cup [loss in North Carolina] had a pretty solid performance, the reserve games [this month] have been good. We have been moving forward, and those are things to build on, with today, obviously, as well.

“We're making progress.”

WORTH NOTING: How tough is this week? Real Salt Lake (10-3-2) is atop the Supporters' Shield standings and have 32 points in 15 games, vs. the Galaxy's 14 in 14. Vancouver (7-3-4) is third in the West, just two points behind second-place San Jose and a point in front of Seattle. ... Dunivant's first goal since May 2010 was clearly vital, not the least for quieting his teammates. “I was due,” said the veteran left back, who has six goals in 231 career MLS regular-season games. “A bunch of the guys were teasing me about it.” ... One of the two trialists the Galaxy hasn't identified is a Gambian high-schooler widely considered the top prospect in the Class of 2013. Forward Kekuta Manneh, who plays for Austin-based youth club Lonestar and is on Premier Development League club Austin Aztex's roster this summer, started training last week with the Galaxy. He has averaged well over a goal per game the last two seasons in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy.