By ADAM SERRANO
CARSON, Calif. — Josh Saunders made his return to action and the Los Angeles Galaxy returned to winning ways on Sunday as the Galaxy defeated the Portland Timbers, 1-0 at the Home Depot Center.
In his first game since April 21st due to his presence in the league's substance abuse and behavioral health program Saunders made four saves as he gave the Galaxy their first shutout of the season.
With Saunders providing steady goalkeeping, the Galaxy needed just one goal as Todd Dunivant's header in the 61st minute held up as the game's only goal. After a trying few months, Saunders admitted that it was "special" to make his return to the field.
"It felt great, we battled through the game," said Saunders. "We just kept believing that we’re going to start winning some games, we battled, we had some struggles early on and we were able to pull through it and I can’t say enough about what the guys did on the field.”
Despite the low scoring, the match was a high-paced affair from the outset as both teams traded scoring chances in the first half. The finest opportunities came in the first ten minutes as Perkins and Saunders were required to make saves — with their faces no less — to keep the match scoreless.
Dunivant tallied the lone goal of the evening in the 61st minute when the left back found himself on the receiving end of a David Beckham corner kick. Alone on the far post, Dunivant was able to calmly nod the shot past a helpless Perkins.
While Dunivant's goal put the Galaxy ahead for good, each member of the club admitted that it was Saunders' presence on the field that provided the biggest lift.
"Josh was great, his attitude since he's been back has been great and everyone will say the same thing," said Galaxy captain Landon Donovan. "It looks like he has some clarity in life. He looks humble, he looks calm and I thought that he was excellent tonight."
Meanwhile, Portland once again continued to struggle to score goals as the shutout was the fifth time that they had been held scoreless. Although the combination of Danny Mwanga, Kris Boyd and Darlington Nagbe's gives the Timbers a potentially dangerous strike force, head coach John Spencer is focusing on the reality.
“The games are ticking down now. You can’t look at games being any bigger than the other," said Spencer. "We need to start picking up points, we know that, we’re not dumb. There’s too many games clicking by and saying ‘oh we should have, could have done this, could have gotten a decision.’
"I’m sick and tired of hearing the word potential. To be honest, if I hear it one more time I’m probably going to throw up," Spencer added. "For me, potential gets you your contract, gets you on the field, then you’ve got to produce. We’ve got too many guys right now not producing to the best of their abilities.”
After their victory, the Galaxy return to action on Wednesday when they travel to Rio Tinto Stadium to face Real Salt Lake. While the Timbers next match is next Sunday when they host the Seattle Sounders.
For the Galaxy, while the win was eerily familiar to the grind 'em out victories of 2011, the club is unwilling to make any comparisons. It was, however, a step in the right direction for the defending MLS Champions.
"We did a good job, no question about that. I'm not going to make the statement it looked like last year yet," said Arena. " If it looked like last year, we'd have a few more wins under our belt. It's progress and hopefully we can move forward."