Brian McBride had warned the Chicago Fire the day before. The former U.S. national team standout could not have made it any more clear: Watch out for Landon Donovan.
The Fire failed to do so Friday night, however, and the result was almost predictable.
Donovan scored on a breakaway late in the first half and the Galaxy went on to defeat the Fire, 1-0, in a game pitting two of Major League Soccer's playoff-bound teams.
"Landon's an exceptional player," McBride said Thursday. "He's definitely the best player in our league -- at least the best American. He's shown that over the past few years.
"He's always a handful. We've got to make sure we get around him and don't let him get the opportunity to run at us."
So much for that warning.
The opportunity came for Donovan in the 42nd minute and he took full advantage. Galaxy midfielder Chris Klein started the sequence by sending the ball from inside his own half and deep into Chicago territory.
Donovan, sprinting through the Fire defense, got to the ball, then didn't even attempt to control it but instead lofted a half-volley over goalkeeper Jon Busch, who had come out to challenge, and into the net.
It was Donovan's 11th goal of the season and he was immediately embraced by David Beckham, acknowledging Donovan's heads-up play.
The Galaxy created three clear scoring chances in the first 22 minutes, and Busch did very well to block two close-range shots by Klein while an unmarked Donovan contrived to skew a 20-yard shot wide left.
At the other end, Chicago also had a few opportunities, but Galaxy goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts was up to the task. He got down low to deny McBride, snared Marco Pappa's long-range effort, and had no trouble with Peter Lowry's less-than-stinging shot.
Chicago should have tied the score six minutes into the second half when the lively Patrick Nyarko wriggled his way through the Galaxy defense before passing inside to Pappa, but the 21-year-old Guatemalan sliced his shot wide of the right post.
"We have to have some patience," Fire Coach Denis Hamlett said Thursday. "It's going to be a chess match."
Not really, it was more like a track meet.
Donovan should have scored his second goal in the 55th minute when he received a perfect through ball from Beckham and ran into the penalty area before blasting his shot over the crossbar. He and Beckham also had later shots brilliantly tipped over the crossbar by Busch.
Chicago, which came in with a 6-2-5 record on the road, has had a tough time with the Galaxy this season. The first game ended in a 1-1 tie in Bridgeview, Ill., and the Galaxy won the second, 2-0, also at Toyota Park.
Friday's game stayed close until the final whistle and was frantic at the end as the Fire wasted two free kicks.
In the end, however, Galaxy Coach Bruce Arena's team prevailed.
"Bruce has built a very good team," McBride acknowledged on Thursday. "He's got them very organized, and when you get not only a group of talented players but a group of talented, experienced players organized, great things happen."
The Galaxy (11-6-11) is on the verge of securing its first playoff berth in four years. It will qualify today if D.C. United fails to beat Chivas USA in Washington.
The Fire (10-7-11) also is close to qualifying but has a bye next weekend.