CARSON, Calif. - Heading into Saturday night's match against Real Salt Lake, the Los Angeles Galaxy were looking to get back to their winning ways in advance of a four-game road swing. With their continued difficulties getting points on the road, the three points available in tonight's game were much needed to keep pace with Western Conference leader FC Dallas.
The Galaxy managed to eke out a 1-0 victory in a game that was nowhere near as close as the score would indicate. L.A. dominated play from the early stages and outshot RSL 16-5. Still, it was a lone strike from Landon Donovan and a clean sheet from Kevin Hartman that spelled the difference in the game.
With the win, Hartman became the first goalkeeper in MLS history to be credited with 100 victories. It was fitting that Hartman reached the century mark by virtue of a shutout - of his landmark number of wins, 51 have come via a clean sheet.
After the game, Hartman's accomplishment was the only thing on the minds of Galaxy players and coaches.
"I really think that the story tonight isn't about the return of Landon Donovan, or the three points. I really think the story tonight is about this man to my right (Hartman)," said Steve Sampson. "I'm very proud of Kevin, and certainly the success of the Galaxy over the past 10 years is in large part due to Kevin Hartman."
An even 100 victories is a staggering number to wrap one's head around - even for a player like Landon Donovan, who has traveled around the world with the U.S. national team and played in the German Bundesliga.
"I don't know if I've played 100 games in MLS. To win 100 is phenomenal," Donovan said.
It was Donovan who provided the game winner against Real just minutes into the second half. The goal was a quintessential Galaxy goal this season, coming from a direct pass out of midfield that allowed Donovan to use his speed to get in behind the Salt Lake defense.
"If teams are going to keep playing with a high line, we'll keep doing that all day," Donovan said about his ability to slip in behind the opponents back line. "That's my strength. If that's what they want to do, then that's up to them."
Even though Donovan went the full 90 minutes on Saturday, it was his third game of the week after having played two World Cup qualifiers with the USA. Having just returned to the Los Angeles area on Thursday following a flight in from Panama, the Galaxy forward understandably drifted out for portions of the match. For Sampson and the rest of the Galaxy, Donovan sprung to life at exactly the right moment.
"He chose his moments to enter the game," said Sampson. "I think he chose a very good time."
Donovan's goal then provided a spark of energy for an otherwise lifeless RSL attack. Following a few missed chances by the Galaxy, RSL put in a 10-minute spurt of pressure on the Galaxy penalty area. While Hartman made a few key saves during the run, it was left back Todd Dunivant who was in the right place at the right time to preserve the win for Los Angeles.
In the 64th minute, Dante Washington beat Hartman with a header that crashed off the top of the crossbar. Washington was able to outleap Hartman for the rebound, and the Real striker got his follow-up shot right on target. At the last possible instant, Dunivant intervened to get a boot to the ball to clear the danger.
After the game, Hartman jokingly felt an obligation to his left back for saving the win, offering to buy Dunivant dinner. Dunivant perked up at the idea, offering up a bargain of his own: "How about two (dinners)? I have the perfect place."
The dinner will have to wait until the Galaxy return from a road trip that sees them playing four games in just two weeks, all of them away from the friendly confines of The Home Depot Center. All four contests are against Western Conference opponents, including a head-to-head matchup with West leader FC Dallas next Saturday at the Cotton Bowl.
Greg Daurio is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.