Carson, CA. – A supercharged, sellout crowd of 27,068 at StubHub Center started chanting for the Galaxy’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the 67th minute of Saturday’s inaugural showdown with inner-city rival LAFC, and the Swedish international obliged four minutes later when he came in as a substitute for Sebastian Lletget.
“The fans were demanding something,” he said with a smile, “and I gave them Zlatan.”
What followed almost defied description. Ibrahimovic scored 10 minutes later with a strike that sent the fans into a frenzy and then added a point-blank header in stoppage time to complete the Galaxy’s comeback from three goals down for a stunning 4-3 victory.
“How you cannot love this game is beyond me,” Galaxy head coach Sigi Schmid said.
Ibrahimovic, late of Manchester United, had arrived in Southern California on Thursday night and participated in exactly one training session with the Galaxy on Friday. He also hadn’t seen any game action since last Dec. 26 in Manchester United’s 2-2 tie with Burnley and later Saturday admitted his fitness wasn’t exactly up to par.
It was bad enough sitting on the bench on a sunny, warm afternoon – he said he asked for sunblock with temperatures in the 70s – but it was even tougher once he was on the field.
“I felt I played 40 games for my 20 minutes,” he said with a grin. “I was feeling everything … jet lag, not playing for a long time. I did the first sprint and I started to breathe (hard) immediately.
“I had a lot of adrenaline because I hadn’t played in a long time. Step by step you build it up. Under these weather conditions, it’s not easy.”
But he made it look ridiculously easy in the 77th minute with his first goal that made it 3-2. The Galaxy’s Dan Steres headed a free kick by LAFC ‘keeper Tyler Miller back across midfield, where the Galaxy’s Ola Kamara collided with an LAFC defender as they battled for possession. The ball bounced over both players and went right to Ibrahimovic, who promptly turned and let loose with a half-volley from at least 40 yards that went over Miller, who was badly out of position, and into the net for a stunning goal.
“I turned to (assistant coach) Dominic (Kinnear) and my coaches and said, ‘That’s world-class,’ ” Schmid said. “You can’t teach that. The vision to see the goalkeeper was off his line and the ability to raise his leg that high to hit the ball. I don’t think many of us can do that, even on our best days.
“I used to have a coach I coached with and he used to have a saying, ‘You gotta dare to be brilliant.’ And you can’t do something brilliant unless you dare to be brilliant. And Ibrahimovic is the perfect definition of a guy who always dares to be brilliant.”
He actually drew a yellow card after he removed his jersey following his first-ever goal with his new club.
“I took off my shirt because I wanted to celebrate with the fans,” he said. “If I would have had more strength I would have run all over the pitch.
“I just managed the one side of the field.”
Ibrahimovic then won it in stoppage time when he headed in a crossing pass from defender Ashley Cole despite close coverage from Miller and LAFC defender Laurent Ciman right in front of the net and the Galaxy had their improbable victory.
Ibrahimovic said he likes what he has seen so far, despite being with the Galaxy for only a couple of days. Everyone, it seems, has been welcoming to him.
“From the first step I took inside the stadium it was amazing,” he said. “I was here early. Everywhere I’m going it’s like happiness, ‘Welcome, welcome, thank you.’ Once I was on the bench I could feel the support, not only for myself but the whole team.
“I’ve said this should have happened a couple of years ago, but it didn’t,” he said, referring to the Galaxy’s earlier, unsuccessful pursuit of him. “But it happened now.
“Every movie has a good ending, yeah? And a good start.”