CARSON, Calif. — The LA Galaxy's return to a familiar back four paid dividends and Landon Donovan's return to familiar form, or something close to it, informed an often inspirational performance as the reigning MLS Cup champions ended Sporting Kansas City's month-long unbeaten run with a 2-0 decision at The Home Depot Center on Saturday night.
Donovan set up Marcelo Sarvas' 27th-minute tap-in and finished a Robbie Keane feed in the 74th as the Galaxy (3-1-2) won for the first time since a March 23 victory over Colorado and handed the Eastern Conference leaders their first defeat in six games, since the second week of the season.
Both goals came from counterattacks, as did several other decent chances, and the first ended Sporting's 545-minute shutout streak, the fifth-longest in MLS history and No. 2 in KC's annals.
It was a spirited battle, one deserving of an encounter between two of the league's best clubs, and the Galaxy were a step quicker and quite sharper from start to finish. Donovan was pivotal in that, giving his best performance — as a mostly left-sided midfielder until the final 25 minutes and up top the rest of the way — since returning late last month from a nearly four-month sabbatical.
The Galaxy had close to a first-choice lineup, with Robbie Keane, Todd Dunivant and Sean Franklin returning after recovering from minor injuries and, in Leonardo's absence after last week's red card, Bruce Arena fielded the first-choice backline from their championship campaigns for the first time since the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals at Herediano back on March 3.
With Omar Gonzalez and A.J. DeLaGarza reunited in central defense, Sean Franklin back at right back and Todd Dunivant on the left, with ample support from, especially, Juninho in midfield, LA's defensive organization was superb, a big stride forward after three successive losses, two to Monterrey in CCL play, in which they surrendered late goals.
Sporting (4-2-1) had opportunities but rarely challenged Carlo Cudicini, beating the Italian goalkeeper just once — a Graham Zusi free kick from just outside the box in the 20th minute — with a shot that caromed off the crossbar.
The Galaxy's best opportunities came from counters. Twice Jack McBean was sent streaking into the box, but he couldn't get off a shot and won corner kicks both times, and Robbie Keane had three chances to score when sent in alone, twice after Donovan had netted the second goal.
Sarvas scored after a Sporting giveaway in midfield and despite a hand ball that referee Jair Marrufo missed.
McBean headed away a Zusi free kick, Benny Feilhaber tracked it down and tried to pass it back and toward the middle for Oriol Rosell, who slipped to the turf. Sarvas raced in to win the ball, briefly handling it before feeding Donovan for an open run down the left channel. Donovan took the ball into the box, eluded Aurélien Collin and slotted the the middle, where Sarvas tapped it home.
Sporting pushed forward seeking an equalizer when the Galaxy struck again. Sarvas fed Robbie Keane a through ball from Galaxy territory, and the Irishman was streaking alone when Paulo Nagamura fell. He took the ball to the box and played it to the right for Donovan, who fired into an empty net.
The Galaxy next travel to Real Salt Lake on April 27, while Sporting KC host Portland that same evening.