CARSON, Calif. -- The Galaxy hasn't had a whole lot of fun this season, dealing with some insane weather, curious calls, difficulties finishing off opponents and far, far too many points left behind.
So Saturday night's 4-1 romp over Sporting Kansas City, fueled by two more Landon Donovan goals and strikes by fellow Designated Players Juan Pablo Angel and David Beckham, was a watershed: a truly joyous performance, for participant and observer alike, that signaled a huge step forward in terms of how L.A. approaches the game.
The Galaxy (5-2-5), who moved four points ahead of Real Salt Lake (5-1-1) in the West, are slowly trading their absorb-and-counter tactics for a possession game, and they showed it off to great effect against Sporting, dictating the game's tempo from start to finish -- even if they didn't get a whole lot out of it until after halftime.
Donovan converted a penalty kick just before halftime to cancel a deficit, then struck again 31 seconds into the second half, and from there it was an exhibition, more or less.
“That's exactly what we needed,” said Galaxy left back Todd Dunivant, whose pinpoint long balls caused havoc along K.C.'s backline and led to Angel's 64th-minute goal that put the result out of doubt. “It's kind of been building. We've all felt good about how we've been playing, and the results haven't exactly been what we've wanted. … Tonight it was a complete performance, and we got the win.”
Donovan matched his 2010 goal total with his sixth and seventh of the season, Angel scored his first meaningful goal of the season, and Beckham got his first this year on a superb free kick that ranks among his best.
L.A. could have had more -- Donovan should have finished off a hat trick in the closing minutes -- and, actually, it did. K.C.'s goal, in the 39th minute, came courtesy of an Omar Gonzalez own goal.
Beckham won a penalty just four minutes after that, taking a cleat from Sporting left back Roger Espinoza as he collected the ball on a run into the box from the right, and Donovan's finish seemed to breathe life into L.A. When Donovan scored again after the break, niftily finishing a give-and-go with Chad Barrett, the game was over.
The goals made Donovan MLS's goals leader this season, one ahead of D.C. United's Charlie Davies, and thrust him into sole possession of fourth place on the all-time list, two ahead of Real Salt Lake head coach Jason Kreis and four behind former Chivas USA striker Ante Razov. All-time leader Jaime Moreno is 23 ahead, with 133.
“It feels good to be on top of the league in points as a team,” Donovan said. “That's the goal. It's always nice to score, it's always good to hit the net. Like I've said a million times, when you put yourself in good spots and you're aggressive, the chances come. Sometimes they go in, and sometimes they don't, and right now they're going in.”
A quick look at the Galaxy's victory:
BEST PLAYER: When Donovan wants to take the game on his shoulders, he can do things nobody else can, and we saw that, especially, at the beginning of the second half. His was a commanding performance, subtle yet overpowering, about far more than just goals, although his go-ahead strike at the start of the second half was truly thrilling.
“When Landon said a couple weeks ago, you know, he's not a goalscorer … I don't know what he's talking about,” Beckham said. “His game is about scoring goals.”
Donovan, who didn't score his seventh last year until Sept. 17, is not so sure. “If I still have seven at the end of the year, it's not going to matter.”
Juninho, who has evolved into a fine two-way midfielder, was just as good, and Dunivant and Gonzalez led a superb effort by the backline. Barrett had two assists, Angel was outstanding off the bench … we can go on. As Arena said: “They were all good tonight.”
BEST GOAL: Easy. Beckham's free kick was world-class. It was from the left flank, just wide of the box, about 23 yards from the end line, and he bent it perfectly into the upper-left corner. Sporting goalkeeper Eric Kronberg never had a chance.
“Terrific. What can you say?” Arena put it. “I don't know how he managed to do that.”
Said Beckham: “To be honest, I was due one. I've had a few [free kicks around the box] this season and not scored. I've been close, but not scored. The game was won by then, but it's always nice to score a goal, especially in front of our fans.”
Donovan's goal in the 46th was almost as nice. He turned on Sean Franklin's throw-in, taking it in stride, stepping through a thicket of defenders, feeding Barrett and racing ahead to tuck home the return pass. Very, very nice.
BIGGEST STRUGGLE: The Galaxy wasn't as good in the first half as in the second, unable to turn a serious possession advantage into any real penetration or test Kronberg. The own goal seemed to liven things, the penalty kick even more so, and the second-half performance was on par with the first-half showing in last week's draw with New York.
Beckham was limping afterward, thanks to the foul by Espinoza, but he expects to be ready for next weekend's SuperClasico against Chivas USA. “It's only a dead leg, but sometimes those are the most painful ones.”
WORTH NOTING: Josh Saunders stepped into the nets when Donovan Ricketts was scratched after showing up ill. Gonzalez, also needed an IV before the game, but he was fine after getting some fluid. … Donovan had scored seven successive goals for L.A. before Angel tallied. ... Arena gave Jovan Kirovski the night off as he rests veterans to prepare for a congested schedule. … K.C. fell to 1-5-1, the worst record in the league.
FINAL JUDGMENT: “I think [the possession game is] a lot of what you're going to see going forward,” Dunivant said. “We wanted to play a lot more possession-style, and that's a big change, because we haven't been like that the last couple years, and it's taken time, and it's going to continue to be something that we work on.”
NEXT: Saturday, May 21, vs. Chivas USA at Home Depot Center, 7 p.m. (ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes)
Home Depot Center (Carson)
Galaxy 4, Sporting Kansas City 1
SKC -- own goal Omar Gonzalez 39
LA -- Landon Donovan pen. 44
LA -- Landon Donovan (Chad Barrett) 46
LA -- Juan Pablo Angel (Chad Barrett) 64
LA -- David Beckham 87
Galaxy: Josh Saunders; Sean Franklin, Omar Gonzalez, A.J. DeLaGarza, Todd Dunivant; Landon Donovan, David Beckham, Juninho (Michael Stephens, 85), Mike Magee; Chad Barrett (Chris Birchall, 81), Miguel Lopez (Juan Pablo Angel, 61). Unused subs: Gregg Berhalter, Paolo Cardozo, Frankie Hejduk, Brian Perk.
Sporting Kansas City: Eric Kronberg; Michael Harrington, Aurelien Collin, Julio Cesar, Roger Espinoza (Chance Myers, 57); Davy Arnaud, Stephane Auvray; Kei Kamara (C.J. Sapong, 67), Milos Stojcev (Ryan Smith, 65), Graham Zusi; Teal Bunbury.
Yellow card: Juninho 80.
Referee: Baldomero Toledo. Att.: 19,763.