Hurting the Seattle Sounders’ playoff plans was just a small bonus.
Josh Saunders earned his ninth shutout for the champs, who head into the postseason as the West’s fourth seed after four largely outstanding months of play. A poor start to the season left the star-studded Galaxy playing catch-up in the West, but they might be gaining fast.
“We’ve put ourselves in a good position,” said Beckham, who played 62 minutes in his first match in three weeks. “It was important to get a good result tonight, get a few minutes, and now the big one is Thursday.”
The Galaxy already knew they’ll host the fifth-seeded Vancouver Whitecaps on Thursday night in a one-game knockout playoff. Los Angeles still played to win, putting Beckham and Landon Donovan in the starting lineup after lengthy injury absences.
“We wanted to get some rhythm and some continuity heading into the playoffs,” said Donovan, who played the entire game.
The loss was a missed opportunity for Seattle, which remained stuck in third in the West with 56 points, allowing Real Salt Lake to finish second with 57.
A win or tie would have put the Sounders into the second playoff slot, but now Salt Lake will host the second game of their two-game conference semifinal, the more advantageous position in the home-and-home series. The third-place finish also might have CONCACAF Champions League ramifications for the Sounders down the road.
“I think we’re ready for the playoffs,” Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said. “Tonight is going to be a good motivator. When you get slapped at the end of the season, it reminds you how it feels, and how you don’t want that feeling again.”
The loss became doubly painful for the Sounders after forward Eddie Johnson left late in the first half with an apparent hamstring injury. Johnson, who leads Seattle with 14 goals, will have an MRI on Monday.
“I made a couple of long runs earlier in the game, and my hammy kind of tightened up on me,” Johnson said. “I felt a big cramp in my hamstring, and I know what that feels like. There’s definitely something there.”
After a lively game featuring numerous near-misses by both offenses, Magee scored from just outside the penalty area when the Sounders left him unmarked. Magee easily converted a pass from Keane, who capped his standout second half of the season with several near-goals and the decisive assist.
“Momentum-wise, it’s huge,” Magee said. “You always see the teams that are doing well at the end of the season doing well in the playoffs. You always want to do well against a team, we hope we’re going to be seeing in the playoffs in a couple of weeks.”
Magee’s goal was just the 15th allowed in 21 games by Michael Gspurning, the Sounders’ Austrian goalie. Seattle allowed just 33 goals this season, fewest in the West.
Los Angeles avoided a three-game season series sweep by the Sounders, who haven’t beaten the Galaxy at Home Depot Center since 2009.
Donovan missed the Galaxy’s last MLS match with a bone bruise on his left knee, and Beckham also sat out to rest his sore left ankle. Neither star had played in a match since Oct. 6.
Beckham and Keane missed scoring strikes by a few inches in the first half, both curling shots just outside the post. Keane nearly scored on a leaping volley off a sharp cross from Donovan in the 41st minute.
Keane barely missed the net again in the 46th, chipping a shot just wide over Gspurning. He put another beautiful shot just off the crossbar in the 53rd minute, freezing Gspurning as he watched the high-arcing ball go over his head.
Lakers forward Pau Gasol, comedian Russell Brand, chef Gordon Ramsay and Victoria Beckham attended the game.