VANCOUVER - Suffering their worst loss of the season to the best team in the league gave the Vancouver Whitecaps an idea of how much they need to improve to be competitive in Major League Soccer.
Landon Donovan scored two goals, one off a penalty kick, and assisted on another as the L.A. Galaxy embarrassed the Whitecaps 4-0 Saturday on their home turf at Empire Field.
For 30 minutes the expansion Whitecaps held their own. But any thoughts of an upset quickly disappeared after Donovan scored his first goal in the 61st minute.
"It just started to go south,'' said Vancouver midfielder Peter Vagenas, who came on as a second-half substitution. "We gave up truly three amateur level goals.
"At some point . . . it's got to sting your ego a bit. You're not going to be in this league, on this team or being paid to do this, if you line up a lot of losses like this. At some point it's about personal pride. I can assure you, guys are pretty devastated right now.''
Midfielder Sean Franklin in the 85th minute and Adam Cristman in the 90th minute also scored for the Galaxy. It was the fourth time in five games L.A. has won in a shutout.
A sellout crowd of 27,500 filled the stands at Empire Field on a warm summer afternoon. They were denied the chance to see Galaxy superstar David Beckham, who was serving a one-game suspension after accumulating eight yellow cards on the season.
The game was a battle of first against worst.
The Galaxy lead the league with a 12-2-9 record. They are riding the crest of a 8-0-6 unbeaten streak.
The Whitecaps are last in the MLS with a 2-11-9 record. Vancouver is 0-5-1 since a June 18 win over Philadelphia at home. It was the first time this season Vancouver allowed four goals.
Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said the Whitecaps are a better team than the lopsided loss indicated.
Striker Eric Hassli missed on a couple of scoring chances, midfielder Shea Salinas fired a rocket that L.A. goalkeeper Josh Saunders just managed to get a hand on, and forward Mustopha Jarju had a ball roll off the tip of his boot.
"I think Vancouver has a good team,'' said Arena. "I don't think they are a team that should stand with two wins.
"I think they played pretty well at times this year and have been unfortunate. They have a good nucleus and have a bright future.''
Donovan said he was impressed by Hassli and play-making midfielder Davide Chiumiento.
"They have a handful of guys that are good players,'' said Donovan, who sat out this week's all-star game with a calf injury. "It's going to take time.
"It's not easy in this league. There are teams like ourselves that have guys together for a long time. It's going to take time for them to jell.''
Donovan's first goal came when he took advantage of a fall by Whitecaps' defender Michael Boxall. The L.A. captain took a long pass from Franklin, let the ball bounce off his chest, then chipped a shot past Vancouver goalkeeper Joe Cannon.
He celebrated by blowing kisses into the stands, then bowing to the booing crowd.
His second goal came after referee Baldomero Toledo called Vancouver defender Jordan Harvey for a hand ball. Donovan struck the ball home for his 11th goal of the season, bringing another round of boos.
Franklin scored on a crossing pass from Donovan, then Cristman added to the agony with a header.
"In the first half I thought Landon was quiet,'' said Arena. "In the second half he was real loud.''
Donovan said the Galaxy had the luxury of being patient.
"They are a team that is desperate and they need to win games,'' he said. "We knew if we were patient and kept the game at 0-0, or in our favour, it was going to benefit us.
"Getting the first goal was real important. We knew if we were smart and passed the ball, we were going to get a number of chances.''
It was a match where the Whitecaps showed flashes of the team they could be.
The smoke from the pre-game fireworks was still drifting away from the stadium when Hassli fed a pretty pass into the box for Jarju, but the forward from Gambia fired the ball over the net.
A few minutes later Salinas sent a ball through the Galaxy defence that just rolled off Jarju's toe.
"Everybody is pretty decimated about how it broke down in the end,'' said Vancouver coach Tom Soehn.
"We did a lot of positive things. We could have taken the lead, but then things fell apart. It's back to the drawing board.''
It was the second time this year one of the marquee teams in MLS came to Vancouver without its biggest draw. In May, a knee injury kept Thierry Henry out of the New York Red Bulls lineup when they tied the Whitecaps 1-1 in Vancouver.