CARSON, Calif. -- For an uneasy hour or so after Vancouver's early goal, the Los Angeles Galaxy's defense of their MLS title appeared to be headed for an awfully early end.
Mike Magee and Landon Donovan made sure the Galaxy are far from finished.
Magee scored the tying goal in the 69th minute and Donovan converted a penalty kick four minutes later, leading Los Angeles to a 2-1 victory in a knockout playoff game Thursday night.
The defending champions got off to an awful start against the defense-minded Whitecaps by giving up a goal to Darren Mattocks in the fourth minute. Fifth-seeded Vancouver had won just three of its last 17 matches, but knows how to sit on a lead.
"If they could have written up the perfect game for them, it would have been scoring in the fourth minute," said Magee, the frequent scoring hero of the Galaxy's title run through the last postseason. "Hats off to them, but we showed how good our team is."
Indeed, Los Angeles' stars finally came through: David Beckham's corner kick helped set up Magee's goal, and Donovan drew a penalty with a strong run to earn the go-ahead goal, the record 21st of his MLS playoff career. Robbie Keane also had a strong game up front, repeatedly causing trouble as the Galaxy dominated possession and easily protected their own lead.
"We started to open ourselves up, pushing to get the goal, and that's where the chance came from," said Beckham, who put his penalty kick short to Juninho for an assist to Magee. "Once we got that first goal, the momentum took us."
The Galaxy advanced to a two-game Western Conference semifinal series against San Jose, which won the Supporters' Shield as MLS' best regular-season team. The Earthquakes, perhaps the Galaxy's biggest rival, visit Home Depot Center on Sunday night.
Brad Knighton made several impressive stops in goal for the Whitecaps, who nearly pulled off a stunner after skidding into the playoffs. Vancouver still became the first Canadian MLS team to reach the postseason in just the franchise's second MLS season, but bemoaned the call against Martin Bonjour on Donovan's winner.
"It was a huge decision that changed the game, and there wasn't a way back for us from there," Vancouver coach Martin Rennie said. "I don't think there were too many 50-50 (calls), if any, that went our way. I'd like to see it again, but it would take a lot to convince me that was a penalty."
The Galaxy lined up without experienced right back Sean Franklin, who was thought to be healthy despite leaving their last match with tightness in his left hamstring.
Vancouver capitalized on Franklin's absence almost immediately when Matt Watson outfoxed replacement Hector Jimenez for a clear run down the sideline. Watson then passed to Mattocks, who beat Tommy Meyer in front and banged a bouncing shot off the far side of the net.
Just like that, the Whitecaps scored the first road goal in club history against the Galaxy after losing by a combined 8-0 in their first three matches in Carson. Jimenez had never played right back for the Galaxy in a league game, only trying out the position in Champions League and reserve matches.
"I think patience was the key, because that's certainly not the way we wanted to start," Donovan said. "A lot of teams would probably get pretty nervous and out of sorts if they gave up that goal."
Los Angeles had 73 percent possession in the first half and put 13 attempts on goal, but got nothing. Knighton, making his first playoff start after five MLS seasons, barely deflected a gorgeous free kick by Beckham away from the top corner of his net.
The Galaxy maintained pressure after halftime, and finally equalized when Vancouver got caught sneaking out of its defensive shell. Beckham quick-kicked the corner to Juninho, who found Magee unmarked for a nifty 12-yard volley.
"My eyes got big, and it felt amazing," Magee said. "A volley from 12 yards out? Yeah, I don't practice that often."
Four minutes later, Donovan broke free on a run up the heart of Vancouver's defense and fell under contact with Bonjour, who came in as a substitute moments earlier. Donovan neatly deposited the penalty shot past Knighton to extend his career record for postseason goals.
The Home Depot Center crowd for a weeknight game was thin but lively, with the Galaxy's ardent supporters' groups chanting "No Stanley Cups!" at the Whitecaps' traveling fans. The eighth-seeded Kings eliminated the Presidents' Trophy-winning Vancouver Canucks in the first round of last spring's NHL playoffs on the way to Los Angeles' first Stanley Cup title, while the Canucks have never won the Cup.
Lakers guard Steve Nash is a part-owner of the Whitecaps, but the two-time NBA MVP didn't attend the game while resting his bruised left leg.