Galaxy beats Portland, 1-0, with Josh Saunders back in goal

Josh Saunders was back at work for the first time in two months Sunday. And even though he’s never publicly explained where he’s been or why exactly he went there, the Galaxy were clearly glad to have their starting goalkeeper back.

The team hadn’t won since late April, when Saunders enrolled in Major League Soccer’s substance abuse and behavioral health program to be treated for an undisclosed condition at an undisclosed location. And the team hadn’t shut out an opponent since Saunders blanked the Houston Dynamo in last November’s MLS Cup final.

Both those streaks came to an end Sunday in a 1-0 win over the Portland Timbers at the Home Depot Center before a matinee crowd announced at 20,611.

The only goal came on defender Todd Dunivant’s controversial header off a David Beckham corner kick in the 61st minute. Galaxy captain Landon Donovan appeared to block Portland keeper Troy Perkins on the play, a move Perkins vehemently protested to referee Geoff Gamble, earning a yellow card.


And though the score was Dunivant’s first in MLS play in more than two years and the assist was Beckham’s fifth of the season, much of the talk afterward centered on Saunders.

“It was a big night for him coming back,” Dunivant said of his keeper. “It was a kind of big deal.”

Said Saunders with a smile: “It felt great. It was very special.”

Saunders didn’t wait long before being welcomed back to the pitch, with Kris Boyd’s wicked left-footed blast from 10 yards — a shot Saunders said he never saw — getting through the keeper’s hands and striking him in the face in the seventh minute. Boyd tested the keeper again 18 minutes later, this time with a low right-footed shot from just outside the box that was headed for the corner of the net before a diving Saunders got his right hand on it for the second of his four saves on the day.

“Two big saves like that is what you need in these kind of games,” Dunivant said. “We didn’t give him a lot of chances, but when we did he bailed us out. And that’s what you need out of your goalkeeper.”

Beckham, playing for the second time this year in front of British Olympic Coach Stuart Pearce, nearly repaid the favor by getting Saunders an insurance goal in the 72nd minute. But his bending free kick from about 30 yards curled just wide of the near post.

One goal wound up being enough, though, giving the Galaxy its first win in eight tries and lifting it out of the Western Conference cellar to within five points of a playoff berth with 20 games left. With Saunders in goal the team is 4-3-0; without him it’s 0-5-2.

“Let’s not get carried away,” Donovan cautioned. “It’s one win. But a great win and everyone feels good about it.”