David Beckham scored what proved to be the winner as Los Angeles Galaxy beat arch-rivals Chivas USA 2-1 to return to the top of the Western Conference and effectively end their opponents’ play-off chances. The former England captain’s superb free-kick moved Bruce Arena’s team, who have already secured a place in the post-season, two points clear of second-placed Real Salt Lake with only three rounds remaining.

A lively contest at the Home Depot Center, in which Chivas were the ‘home’ team, was one of two halves. The first belonged to the Galaxy. Only four minutes were on the clock when, following neat build-up from Chris Birchall, Edson Buddle spurned a good chance to break the deadlock.

Giancarlo Maldonado then came agonisingly close to putting Martin Vasquez’s side ahead, the 28-year-old Venezuelan’s curling shot denied by the post. The woodwork came to Chivas’s rescue moments later. A clever Beckham pass put Buddle one-on-one with goalkeeper Zach Thornton but rather than take the straightforward option, the USA striker attempted an elaborate chip which came back off the crossbar.

The 29-year-old, the competition’s leading marksman, made no mistake midway through the half. Michael Stevens looped the ball over the Chivas defence for Buddle to run on to, and his superb first-time volley gave Thornton no chance en route to the bottom corner.

Buddle then earned the free-kick from which the Galaxy doubled their advantage six minutes before the break. Beckham placed the ball just outside the penalty area and although nine Chivas players created a sizeable wall, the 35-year-old’s firmly-struck curler found the top corner.

Chivas substitutes Rodolfo Espinoza and Jorge Flores changed the balance of play following the restart, and striker Alan Gordon, who joined the Goats from the Galaxy in August, came close to reducing the deficit with a header on the hour mark.

The California native, who will turn 29 later this month, did succeed in doing that minutes later. Jonathan Bornstein crossed from the left and Gordon’s header somehow slipped through the hands of Donovan Ricketts and into his net.

Chivas went into a numerical advantage on 77 minutes, when 36-year-old midfielder Eddie Lewis was sent off for stomping on Espinoza. However, the Galaxy held out to make it six games undefeated against their enemies.