Robbie Keane sets up Galaxy’s 2-0 win over Vancouver

Five times this season the Galaxy had taken the captain’s armband from Landon Donovan and handed it to Robbie Keane, and each time Keane rewarded the team with a goal or an assist.

So when Donovan’s strained left hamstring sidelined him for a third consecutive game Saturday, Keane not only filled in again, he also set up goals by Juninho and David Beckham in a 2-0 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps in front of 20,168 at the Home Depot Center.

The victory was the 10th in 15 games for the Galaxy, which began June in last place in the Western Conference but, two days into September, finds itself in third place, only a victory out of second, heading into a two-week break in their Major League Soccer schedule.

“We’ve been in real good form over the last couple of months,” Coach Bruce Arena said. “We’re positioned now to move up the ladder in the conference standings so we’ve got a lot of work to do.

“We can play better. We know that. And hopefully we’ll show that in September, October, November.”

Keane, who leaves Sunday to join the Irish national team for a World Cup qualifying game, didn’t have to do much to earn his assist, settling a pass from Hector Jimenez and sending it on to a wide-open Juninho outside the box.

From there the Brazilian drove a shot over the outstretched arms of goalkeeper Brad Knighton and into the top right corner of the net, then celebrated with a backflip.

The goal, which came in the 41st minute, was the sixth in as many games against all competition for Juninho and gave him a career-high five in MLS play this season.

More important, however, is that it gave goalkeeper Josh Saunders and the team’s reconstituted defense the only goal they would need.

Saunders sat out seven games this season while being treated for a still-undisclosed problem under the league’s substance-abuse and behavioral health program. But since returning, he has lost only three times in 15 starts, posting seven shutouts.

In front of him, the Galaxy’s first-choice back line of Sean Franklin, Omar Gonzalez, A.J. DeLaGarza and Todd Dunivant started together for only the fourth time this year. Three of those games have been shutouts but they went that one better Saturday, giving up only one shot in each half, neither of which Saunders had to save.

“It was a solid performance tonight,” Arena said of the Galaxy’s defense. “Josh looks really comfortable in the goal right now. So that group is good.”

Beckham added another goal in the 79th minute anyway, bending a free kick into the top left corner of the net from about 30 yards for his career-best seventh goal of the season.

Keane had to work a little harder to that set up that one, winning the free kick by drawing a foul from defender Martin Bonjour.

Beckham’s shot was so perfectly placed that Knighton never even moved.