ALEX KURIAL - Monday, August 26, 2013
An early Landon Donovan strike was all the LA Galaxy needed to nab three points over the Vancouver Whitecaps at BC Place.
Donovan's goal was not Vancouver's earliest blow of the day. Camilo was ruled out with an injury prior to kickoff, meaning the Whitecaps would be without the league's most prolific scorer. Jamaican forward Darren Mattocks took Camilo's place up front, coincidentally marking his first start since May 11 when he scored in a 3-1 win over the Galaxy.
The news was not all bad for Vancouver on the injury front however. Defender Andy O'Brien made his return to the lineup after missing the last 11 games with an injured hamstring. Though no doubt pleased to be back, the Irishman would be in for a rude awakening.
Despite playing twice already this season, this was Vancouver's first look at the combination of Donovan and Robbie Keane up front. The back line was well aware this would be the case, but no amount of preparation was going to deny the pair on this night.
Making his first start since Jul. 3, Matt Watson turned the ball over to A.J. DeLaGarza at midfield to send LA the other way. DeLaGarza attempted a pass to Keane, but a clumsy intervention from Johnny Leveron and O'Brien saw the ball deflect to Donovan.
Taking the ball in stride, Donovan only needed one touch before rifling a stunning shot into the top left corner from 25 yards. It was the seventh goal of the season for the American, and fourth in three games since returning from his MVP performance at the Gold Cup.
The Whitecaps did well to recover after the third minute blow, but their offense could only manage a few ambitious efforts for the rest of the half. Kenny Miller had a brilliant chance to tie eight minutes after the restart, but blasted a one-timer from Russell Teibert wide left from inside the box.
It was the 82nd minute though where the sold out crowd of 21,000, along with everyone else in the stadium, was truly left wondering how Vancouver didn't find the equalizer.
After the Galaxy managed to clear a corner kick from the box, Kekuta Manneh ripped a long range shot that smacked the right post. The rebound fell to Jordan Harvey, who faced a gaping net with goalie Jaime Penedo down and out from the initial shot. Going for the tap in from six yards, Penedo came up with what could be the save of the year as he made an unbelievable full stretch dive to tip the ball away.
LA held steady in the final minutes to claim the crucial 1-0 victory. Penedo can certainly take the bulk of the credit for the shutout, making five saves including the superhuman effort to deny Harvey.
The Galaxy now move into second in the West with a record of 12-9-4. They are five points back of Real Salt Lake with two games in hand, and can look to close the gap on Saturday at home against California rivals San Jose Earthquakes.
Vancouver falls to 10-9-6 with the loss, now finding themselves in seventh place and on the outside looking in playoffs wise. The Whitecaps host lowly Chivas USA on Sunday in a prime chance to claim three points and move back into the top five.