The LA Galaxy sent a message to the rest of MLS on Wednesday night, piecing together another comprehensive performance, grabbing a quick lead and putting away Eastern Conference leader D.C. United, more or less, before halftime.
Landon Donovan, running the attack in Robbie Keane’s absence, set up all three first-half goals as LA (12-5-7) romped to a 4-1 victory at StubHub Center to grab the No. 2 spot in the Western Conference and Supporters’ Shield standings, just two points behind Seattle.
Alan Gordon, starting in place of Keane, tallied after just 67 seconds, and Omar Gonzalez and Baggio Husidic added goals before the break as the Galaxy cobbled their first three-game winning streak since August 2013.
D.C. United (13-8-4), reduced to chasing most of the first half as the Galaxy repeatedly connected dozens of passes to set up six excellent scoring opportunities, got one goal back on what was ruled a Leonardo own goal and found their attack after Fabian Espindola came on minutes later, but Donovan converted a 75th-minute penalty kick to end any suspense.
United are one point ahead of Sporting Kansas City in the East.
Both teams rotated players, with games coming this weekend. The Galaxy gave Keane the night off, inserting Gordon in his spot, and A.J. DeLaGarza moved to right back with Todd Dunivant returning on the left and Dan Gargan on the bench.
For D.C., David Estrada stepped in on the left flank for Chris Rolfe, who sustained a minor leg injury in last weekend’s win at Sporting Kansas City, Eddie Johnson was favored over Espindola up top, Lewis Neal for Davy Arnaud in central midfield, and Alex Caskey for Nick DeLeon on the right flank.
The Galaxy were ahead by the second minute. Donovan picked off a pass and played a through ball for Gordon, who squared it to Marcelo Sarvas as he neared D.C.’s box. Bobby Boswell stepped in to knock the ball away from the Brazilian, but it caromed off fellow defender Steve Birnbaum and bounced straight to Gordon, who slid into the ball and finished into an open net.
Donovan didn’t get an assist on that one, of course, but he picked up two on the next two goals, giving him 127 in his MLS career, just eight off Steve Ralston’s record.
Gonzalez scored in the 25th minute, his third goal in five games, reaching around Birnbaum to volley home Donovan’s corner kick near the penalty spot.
Husidic netted the third in first-half stoppage time, finishing a brilliant sequence. Donovan played a one-two with Gordon just above United’s box, then played the ball into space on the right for DeLaGarza, who sent the ball into the goalmouth. Husidic got a touch, and it bounced off goalkeeper Bill Hamid and into the net.
Hamid came up big on several occasions, stopping Gyasi Zardes three times on one-on-one opportunities, parrying a DeLaGarza cross/shot that looked like it might dip under his crossbar and denying Robbie Rogers at the left post late in the match.
Gordon and Donovan also fired wide on superb opportunities. LA, with better fortune might have scored five first-half goals and another two or three after halftime.
D.C., limited to just one first-half shot, scored on their first try on net, in the 58th minute. Caskey tracked down a cross LA goalkeeper Jaime Penedo parried on the right wing and sent the ball back into the goalmouth. Johnson and Leonardo arrived just as the ball was getting to Penedo, and it was difficult to tell if there was a touch or it bounced through and into the net.
Donovan converted the penalty kick after a foul on a corner kick. Gonzalez got his head to the ball but went down under pressure from Birnbaum, and it wasn’t clear if referee Kevin Stott whistled that or what appeared to be a foul against Leonardo.
D.C. United are home the same day against New York. Tickets available online.