With $16 million worth of Major League Soccer salary on the field in the shape of only four players on Friday night, it figured that one of the quartet would make the difference.
But the Galaxy's David Beckham ($6.5 million) and Landon Donovan ($2.1 million) and the New York Red Bulls' Juan Pablo Angel ($1.9 million) and Rafael Marquez ($5.5 million) did not play a leading role.
Instead, it was the fastest man on the Home Depot Center field, New York's Dane Richards ($146,500) who scored the winning goal as the Red Bulls overcame the Galaxy, 2-0, in front of a sellout crowd of 27,000.
The opening goal came in the 36th minute and was the result of a Galaxy defensive miscue.
Roy Miller took a throw-in for New York and Galaxy defender Yohance Marshall attempted to head the ball clear but failed. Red Bulls midfielder Joel Lindpere ($115,000) got to the loose ball before Galaxy defender Leonardo and fired a shot that caromed off the Galaxy's left post.
Richards was first to the rebound and slotted the ball into the net for his third goal of the season.
The Galaxy defense was weakened by the absence of central defenders Gregg Berhalter, out because of a neck injury, and Omar Gonzalez, who was serving a one-game suspension.
Galaxy Coach Bruce Arena tried to reinforce the back line in the second half by taking Leonardo off and replacing him with A. J. DeLaGarza, who returned to training only this week after suffering a left knee strain.
DeLaGarza had not been on the field a dozen minutes before he picked up a yellow card for a foul on Lindpere as the Galaxy tried to pick up the intensity of its game.
But the Red Bulls came into the match with an 11-0-1 record this season when taking the lead, and it was not long before they salted the game away.
Fifteen minutes into the second half, New York doubled its advantage, and Richards this time was the creator, not the goal scorer.
He took a pass on the right flank and blew past Marshall and into the penalty area. The two hooked arms and both went down. Referee Ricardo Salazar pointed to the spot. Penalty kick.
It was a marginal call, with no foul readily evident, but Angel made no mistake with the resulting kick, beating goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts and scoring his 13th goal of the season, only one behind league leader Edson Buddle of the Galaxy.
The Galaxy tried to fight back but could not throw everything into it because of the danger New York presented on the counterattack.
Beckham made his first start for Los Angeles since the 2009 MLS Cup final in Seattle, where the Galaxy lost on penalty kicks to Real Salt Lake, and played the entire 90 minutes.
He came close to scoring in the 66th minute when his free kick had to be alertly punched away by Red Bulls goalkeeper Bouna Coundoul.
The loss dropped the Galaxy, which already has clinched its place in the playoffs, to 15-6-5. New York improved to 13-8-5 and is virtually certain of being one of the eight playoff teams.