The LA Galaxy would be running away with the Supporters' Shield race if they had killed off a few games earlier this year, but late leads repeatedly turned into draws and defeat, late ties into losses.
So the Galaxy's performance at the end of Saturday night's clash at Vancouver, when they staved off repeated attacks, got one humongous save from goalkeeper Jaime Penedo, then wore down the clock in a most professional manner to hold onto a 1-0 triumph, was a reinvention of sorts, and it could point the way toward something special.
“That's just a good ole grind-it-out, three-points-on-the-road win, which our team really has not experienced this year,” head coach Bruce Arena said after the game. “The team played great, obviously Jaime made a fabulous save at the end of the game, and those are the kind of games you have to win. And we've not been able to do that this year, so this is big for our team.”
LA too often has conceded crucial goals while surging forward in search of a winning goal when tied or insurance when ahead in tight encounters, but the lessons of their failures -- and the 12 points the Galaxy have been deprived because of them -- are finally starting to sink in.
It's about mindset, and the Galaxy's dominance these past four years -- with two Supporters' Shields, two MLS Cup titles and three title-game appearances -- was built on grinding out 1-0 results. That was part of the halftime conversation in LA's locker room, that they should be satisfied with a 1-0 scoreline.
“We said at halftime, we're always very eager every time we get the ball to go forward as quick as possible, but sometimes you have to see the game out,” captain Robbie Keane said. “Of course, we want to get the second goal, there's no question about that, but if it doesn't happen, we have to focus on our jobs and play as a team, and that certainly was a team performance tonight.”
Said defender Omar Gonzalez: “I think we used to pride ourselves on winning games, 1-0. It feels good. That means it was a tough game, we battled hard, and you can be really proud about this 1-0 win.”
The Galaxy dominated the first 45 minutes and led nearly the whole game, after Landon Donovan's third-minute rocket to the upper-left corner. Vancouver had more of the game after halftime and nearly got a result when Kekuta Manneh struck the right post in the 81st minute and the rebound caromed to Jordan Harvey, alone in front of an empty net.
Penedo, who had dived past his post trying to get to Manneh's shot, picked himself up and leapt across the mouth of the goal, fully outstretched to push away Harvey's shot. It was a nearly miraculous save.
After that, the Galaxy went into game-killing mode, spending much of stoppage working the ball into the right corner at Vancouver's end as the seconds ticked away.
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“They were pretty direct and putting us under pressure with a lot of balls in the box,” Arena said. “I thought our guys held up well, and at the end of the game, for one of the rare times this year, we killed the game off. We grew with this game. It was a good experience for our group.”
Donovan, who scored on a beautiful blast to the upper-left corner in the third minute, called it “the type of game that champions win,” and he was then asked if the had the feeling the Galaxy were starting to take off.
“I think so,” he replied. “We had a really, really good performance against [Real] Salt Lake last week at home, a real good performance midweek [against Cartagines in the CONCACAF] Champions League. This is a massive win for our team ... I think we're confident. Offensively, we're really starting to click. Defensively, now it's two shutouts in a row. I think we're building towards really good things.”