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Galaxy beat Fire, take lead in Western Conference

Oct 3, 2009 - 6:58 AM CARSON, Calif. (STATS) - After two years of melodrama and controversy, the Los Angeles Galaxy are in first place in the Western Conference with two games remaining.

Landon Donovan scored in the 42nd minute and Donovan Ricketts recorded his seventh shutout to lead the Galaxy to a 1-0 victory over the Chicago Fire on Friday night.

With its second victory in three games, Los Angeles (11-6-11) took a one-point lead over Houston atop the West.

"We'll take it," midfielder Chris Klein said. "It's been awhile since the Galaxy made the playoffs but it should be standard for this club. We're on our way to getting it back to that point."

Los Angeles will clinch its first playoff berth since its 2005 MLS Cup championship season if D.C. United loses to or ties Chivas USA on Saturday night.

The Galaxy are in playoff position following two years of poor play and internal strife as documented in Grant Wahl's book, "The Beckham Experiment."

Some of the bickering took place between Donovan and David Beckham, who publicly found fault with Donovan's criticism of the British midfielder.

So what has made the difference this season?

"Most games this year, we've competed in the right way on most plays throughout 90 minutes," Donovan said. "Second is having some sort of structure and identity. The teams that are successful around the world have that."

Beckham praised Donovan for more than his game-winning goal.

"His work rate was second-to-none," Beckham said. "He was chasing balls back, closing people down."

Donovan's goal - his 11th of the season and first since Aug. 19 - came after Beckham started a counter-attack. Klein passed to an unmarked Donovan, who beat Chicago's Logan Pause and chipped a 19-yard shot over goalkeeper Jon Busch into an open net.

"In those moments, I'm trying to set up the defender and trying to figure out where his mind is," Donovan said. "At that point, I think Logan was a little casual in recognizing the space behind him, so I took off.

"Chris hit a great ball. I think (Pause) tried to slow me down but I got the better of that. Then Busch was caught in-between."

Ricketts made four saves, including diving stops on 25-yard shots by Brian McBride in the 27th minute and Marco Pappa in the 37th. Chicago had another chance to tie the game in second-half stoppage time, but Brandon Prideaux's 5-yard shot got blocked by the Galaxy's A.J. De La Garza and Ricketts pounced on the ball.

The Fire (10-7-11) saw its winless streak reach five games.

"We never really tested Ricketts," coach Denis Hamlett said. "We had half-chances in front of the goal and we just didn't do well with them."

The Fire played without midfielders Cuauhtemoc Blanco (strained left hamstring) and John Thorrington (strained groin).