Donovan's goal in just the third minute gave the Los Angeles Galaxy a 1-0 win over the Whitecaps before a disappointed sellout crowd of 21,000 at B.C. Place Stadium. The marker came on his only shot of the game, which was also L.A.'s only attempt on target.
The Whitecaps made a strong second-half rally, but could not get the equalizer after being denied on two back-to-back chances.
"It was obviously a bad start, the worst start you could have got, with the goal so early," said Whitecaps coach Martin Rennie. "That was disappointing.
"But after that, I thought that we played well. We got forward and created a number of good chances."
The Galaxy (12-9-4) posted their fifth straight victory and secured sole possession of second place in the tight Western Conference.
The Whitecaps (10-9-6) suffered their second consecutive loss as their hold on the fifth and final playoff berth became more tenuous.
"You end up on the wrong end of a 1-0 (loss), but I don't feel like we played badly tonight," said Rennie. "I feel like L.A.'s probably the best team in MLS. Whether that's the case or not remains to be seen, but that's my opinion."
The Whitecaps suffered just their second loss in 13 games at home this season.
"That's the type of game that champions win," said Donovan. "We know when the playoffs come, hopefully, that's what games might look like. That was a huge performance today."
Donovan scored his fourth goal in three games after A.J. DeLaGarza's pass hit Whitecaps central defender Johnny Leveron and came to him. The Galaxy captain planted a high shot in the left corner of the net over Whitecaps goalkeeper David Ousted.
"It helps a lot when you're on the road," said Donovan of the early goal. "It puts your team in a really good position, and even if they score a goal, you're back where you started, so it's a nice way to start a game.
"We can play a little more cautiously and just worry about defending and trying to counter — and it really played to our advantage tonight."
Donovan needs four more goals to become the all-time leading scorer in MLS history.
L.A. goalkeeper Jaime Penedo recorded his first MLS shutout in only his second career league appearance and third overall appearance with the Galaxy.
Usually, prolific offensively at home, Vancouver's offence struggled most of the first half and missed striker Camilo, who entered the game tied for the MLS scoring lead with 14 goals. He spent the game on the bench after determining he could not play due to a slight groin strain sustained last weekend against Colorado.
"So that was disappointing," said Rennie. "And, obviously, in a game like that today that was really tight, a player like Camilo is someone who could make a difference and could perhaps get us a goal."
The sit ended Camilo's string of 17 consecutive starts in league games dating to April 27. Rennie said the club did not want to risk further injury by putting him in, and expects him to be back soon.
Darren Mattocks, who recently returned from a knee injury that required minor surgery, started in his place. It was the Jamaican international's first start since the last meeting between L.A. and Vancouver at B.C. Place on May 11, when he scored. But he did not do much, rarely touching the ball before subbing out in the second half.
Meanwhile, central defender Andy O'Brien started his first game since suffering a hamstring injury June 8 in Seattle. Vancouver's revised back line was victimized early as Donovan opened the scoring from about 20 yards out.
L.A. ultimately clinched the win after the Whitecaps were denied on back-to-back chances in the 82nd minute. Second-half substitute Kekuta Manneh hit the post in a sequence following a Vancouver corner-kick. Then L.A. goalkeeper Penedo, who signed with the Galaxy after starring for Panama at the CONCACAF Gold Cup, dove back the other way and made a miraculous save on Jordan Harvey's shot off the rebound.
"To get back like that for a huge save was unbelievable," added L.A. midfielder Robbie Keane. "That's a world-class save."
Manneh's insertion after halftime ignited Vancouver's dormant offence. The Whitecaps finished with 12 attempts on goal — nine on target — during their second-half rally. L.A. had nine attempts on goal, but only two in the second half.
Penedo recorded five saves, including four in the second half while Vancouver counterpart Ousted did not get credit for a single stop.
"It was a grind-out road victory, one that we haven't had all year, so it was good to get one," said L.A. coach Bruce Arena.
Donovan, who is playing in the final year of his contract, took exception to Rennie's comment Friday that the American star is extra-motivated as he seeks a new deal.
"I've been motivated my whole life, and I think people are quick to forget what people have done," said Donovan. "We're back-to-back MLS champions. I scored the game-winning goal in both games, so I think I'm pretty motivated."
Notes: Keane and Donovan criticized the quality of the B.C. Place Stadium artificial turf which, barring a change, is slated for use in the 2015 Women's World Cup. ... Whitecaps captain Jay DeMerit, close to returning from a torn Achilles tendon suffered early in the first game of the season, did not dress. He could get a game with Vancouver's reserve squad before returning to MLS action. DeMerit, a 33-year-old Green Bay, Wisc., native, is scheduled to marry Canadian 2010 ski cross gold medallist Ashleigh McIvor in Whistler, B.C., on Sunday. ... Like the Whitecaps, the Galaxy has started three different goalkeepers this season. It's the third consecutive season that L.A. has deployed three goalkeepers. Colorado, Real Salt Lake and Seattle have also given three different goalkeepers starting assignments. ... Whitecaps midfielder Matt Watson, usually a substitute, made his first start since July 3 against Kansas City before subbing out for Manneh.