On an evening when the Galaxy was more or less on song, it was Landon Donovan and Cobi Jones who made the sweetest music Saturday night.
Donovan’s well-taken goal off Jones’ astute pass in the 52nd minute earned Los Angeles a 1-0 Major League Soccer victory over Real Salt Lake in front of an announced 23,544 at the Home Depot Center.
By winning, the Galaxy (7-2-2, 23 points) kept pace with FC Dallas (7-1-3, 24 points) in the fight for first place in the Western Conference. Dallas has the most slender of leads over Los Angeles entering its game today at Chicago.
It was not Donovan, just back from leading the U.S. to victory in two World Cup qualifiers, who earned the accolades from Coach Steve Sampson, however.
“I really think tonight the story isn’t about the return of Landon Donovan or the three points,” Sampson said before giving praise to Galaxy goalkeeper Kevin Hartman.
“One hundred career wins in MLS, the first ever to do so as a goalkeeper, well over 50% of those shutouts.... The success of the Galaxy over the past 10 years is in large part due to Kevin Hartman.”
Hartman, 100-62-30 in regular-season play as the Galaxy’s starting goalkeeper and 18-13-3 in the playoffs, suggested the honor deserved to be shared.
“I think it shows longevity and it shows consistency and it shows being a part of great Galaxy squads,” he said of his accomplishment. “There are a lot of coaches to thank and a lot of people that I’ve played with.
“On my glove today I kind of had a bunch of initials of guys who I’ve really appreciated for the things that they’ve taught me in soccer.”
Donovan taught the Real Salt Lake defense a thing or two.
Continuing his run of good form, he received the pass from Jones, raced through or past a trio of Real defenders before slotting the ball wide to the right of Salt Lake goalkeeper D.J. Countess.
“Once again, Landon Donovan, even as tired as he is coming off 2 1/2 weeks with the national team, found a way to score the goal for us tonight,” Sampson said.
Real Salt Lake Coach John Ellinger, who groomed Donovan on the U.S. under-17 national team, knew Donovan might cause his defense problems.
“He’s a little different player to try and stop,” Ellinger said. “Overall, we’re very pleased with the improvement and effort. But when you make a mistake with a player like Landon and give him an opportunity like that, he’ll put it away.”
The goal, Donovan’s team-high sixth of the season, left him tied for second place in the league scoring race with New England striker Taylor Twellman, both one goal behind FC Dallas’ Carlos Ruiz.
The Galaxy outshot Real, 16-5 overall and 7-1 in shots on target.
The closest Real came to scoring was in the 65th minute, when forward Dante Washington headed a ball off the crossbar and then headed the rebound back toward the net with Hartman stranded.
Fortunately for the Galaxy, left back Todd Dunivant was alert enough to clear the ball off the line at the last second.
“I’ll have to take Todd out to eat,” Hartman said afterward. “Taking the ball off the line really kept it intact for us back there.”
Costa Rican international defender Pablo Chinchilla almost doubled the Galaxy’s advantage with a late volley that flew wide, but his overall play impressed Sampson.
“Chinchilla played an exceptional game tonight,” he said. “With every game he seems to get more and more comfortable.”
For the Galaxy, unbeaten at the Home Depot Center, it now gets more uncomfortable. The team’s next four games are on the road.