CARSON, Calif. - The LA Galaxy have set themselves up for a run to MLS Cup, and after Friday's 1-0 win over a game but overmatched Colorado Rapids side, they’ve made it official.
With three points, the Galaxy became the first team to clinch a spot in the MLS Cup playoffs, which will culminate with MLS Cup 2011 at the Home Depot Center on Nov. 20.
It was Landon Donovan’s 36th minute goal that proved the difference, and an airtight defense that made it stand up.
The Galaxy's lineup featured several different faces as Donovan Ricketts, Bryan Jordan, Paolo Cardozo and Chad Barrett all got the nod. Robbie Keane, fresh off two Republic of Ireland matches in the last seven days, dressed and started the match on the bench.
For Ricketts, it was his first start since June 25, when he broke his forearm in a match against San Jose.
Colorado meanwhile had a key absence as Drew Moor was not part of the starting lineup for the first time since Aug. 6, 2009, snapping an MLS record streak for field players of 6,210 consecutive minutes played. Moor was suspended for the match on yellow-card accumulation, and veteran defender and former Galaxy defender Tyrone Marshall started alongside Marvell Wynne in central defense.
The absence hurt Colorado, who were put on the back foot almost from the opening whistle. Cardozo was especially effective in the first half hour, testing Colorado ‘keeper Matt Pickens, who put in a man of the match performance in defeat. Cardozo, who made his third start of the season and saw his first minutes since July 9, had five shots in the first half alone and forced Pickens to make a pair of standout saves in order to prevent him from scoring.
The Galaxy goal finally came after a series of brilliant Pickens saves had kept them out. Some nifty passing found Barrett down the middle after the forward did a good job of staying onside on a through ball. He slipped a ball forward to Sean Franklin, who found Donovan unmarked on the left side of the box. Donovan hammered the ball inside the far post, leaving Pickens no chance.
Colorado meanwhile had just two shots in the first half and only one - a soft attempt by Jeff Larentowicz in the 33rd minute - was on target.
In the 56th minute, Colorado appeared to have scored the equalizer when Wells Thompson knocked a rebound past a sprawled-out Ricketts. However, the goal was waved off as Thompson was ruled to have been in an offside position.
Keane replaced Barrett in the 60th minute as Ireland's captain would play the final 30 minutes after playing 180 minutes five days apart in Euro 2012 qualifiers.
Colorado countered with Omar Cummings and a tactical shift to a 3-4-3. It generated more possession, but the visitors lacked a cutting edge even when they were able to put LA onto the back foot.
The Galaxy (15-3-10, 55 points) remain in first place with six games left in the regular season. They’re next in action on Tuesday night when they travel to Morelia in CONCACAF Champions League action.
Colorado (10-8-11, 41 points) stay in fifth place in the West, comfortably in playoff position but slipping further and further from the first-round bye that comes from a top-three conference finish. Like LA they’ll see CCL action on Tuesday when they host Santos Laguna.
LA -- Landon Donovan 12 (Sean Franklin 3, Chad Barrett 4) 36
Colorado Rapids -- Matt Pickens, Kosuke Kimura (Omar Cummings 69), Marvell Wynne, Tyrone Marshall, Danny Earls, Brian Mullan, Jeff Larentowicz, Pablo Mastroeni, Wells Thompson, Caleb Folan, Macoumba Kandji (Sanna Nyassi 39).
Substitutes Not Used: Mike Holody, Joseph Nane, Ross LaBauex, Scott Palguta, Steward Ceus.
LA Galaxy -- Donovan Ricketts, Bryan Jordan, A.J. DeLaGarza, Omar Gonzalez, Todd Dunivant, Sean Franklin, David Beckham, Juninho (Michael Stephens 74), Landon Donovan, Chad Barrett (Robbie Keane 60), Paolo Cardozo (Mike Magee 67).
Substitutes Not Used: Frankie Hejduk, Jovan Kirovski, Miguel Lopez, Josh Saunders.
COL -- Brian Mullan (caution; Tactical Foul) 67
Referee: Kevin Stott
Referee's Assistants: -Mike Rottersman; Anthony Vasoli
4th Official: Alejandro Mariscal
Time of Game: 1:50
Weather: Partly Cloudy-and-69-degrees