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Galaxy rallies in second half for 2-1 win

Maybe it was a punishing schedule that had the Galaxy play eight games in 26 days. Maybe it was a dogged Real Salt Lake team that has traditionally given the Galaxy fits.

Or maybe it was simply the law of averages finally taking hold. Wherever you place the credit, or blame, it took a second-half goal that bounced off a Real Salt defender for a fatigued and frustrated Galaxy to rally for a 2-1 victory Saturday at a sold-out Home Depot Center, preserving their unbeaten record at home.

The result also moved the Galaxy a step closer to its second consecutive Supporters’ Shield, which goes to the MLS team with the best regular-season record. With 64 points, the Galaxy needs two more in its final three games to clinch the award.

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“We were aggressive and we kept our composure and we did what we had to do,” Coach Bruce Arena said. “It was a good win for us.”

That looked like an unlikely outcome after a chippy first half in which much of the physical play appeared focused on Landon Donovan. But Real Salt Lake also collected the only goal of the opening half, scoring in the final minute when Javier Morales bent a corner kick to Fabian Espindola at the edge of the six-yard box, from where Espindola headed it into the far corner.

It was the first goal that goalkeeper Josh Saunders had given up since Sept. 5.

The Galaxy got the equalizer 14 minutes into the second half on a great individual effort by forward Chad Barrett, who chased a David Beckham free kick up the right wing, battled defender Jamison Olave for control at the near post, then used his left foot to volley the ball over Olave and past goalkeeper Nick Rimando for his sixth goal this season.

Donovan helped set up the tiebreaking goal, in the 72nd minute. The play started with a long Beckham free kick deep into a crowded penalty area. Donovan managed to get his head on the ball, directing it toward Todd Dunivant at the far post and Dunivant volleyed it back toward the center of the goal, where it struck a surprised Nat Borchers, then rolled into the net.

Real Salt Lake was assessed four yellow cards and 24 fouls, with Donovan going to the turf for the final time in the 89th minute. He was helped off the field but by then the outcome had largely been decided, an outcome that left the Galaxy 11-0-5 at the Home Depot Center and a victory away from becoming the third MLS team to finish a season unbeaten at home.

The Galaxy’s second-half rally helped overcome an unspectacular return by forward Robbie Keane, who was making his third MLS start since signing with the team a month and a half ago.

Saunders made two difficult saves to win his 11th game. Coming into the season, Saunders hadn’t even played 11 MLS games. But pressed into service when Donovan Ricketts was sidelined because of a broken left forearm and a tight right quadriceps, Saunders has come off the bench to rescue the Galaxy.

“You want players, when their number’s called, they step up and they perform,” Arena said. “And no one can argue that Josh hasn’t done his fair share.”

kevin.baxter@latimes.com


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