The LA Galaxy didn’t make it look pretty but were led by a first-half goal from Zlatan Ibrahimovic for three valuable road points.
They don’t all have to be pretty. For an LA Galaxy team that finished last in the league in 2017, they could do with a whole lot of ugly… as long as it means three points. And on this afternoon, one goal from Zlatan Ibrahimovic was enough to secure the points and get out of the Windy City.
The Galaxy (3-2-1) put out their best starting XI of the season and combined striker Ibrahimovic’s first start with the club and the first start together of midfielders Romain Alessandrini, Jonathan dos Santos, and Sebastian Lletget.
With the wind blowing hard, the Galaxy took on the Chicago Fire (1-3-1) in something that resembled soccer at times, but only when each team had it’s back to the breeze.
“You do the best you can,” Galaxy midfielder Perry Kitchen confessed. “Our goal kicks were literally dropping out of the sky. It was the same for both teams. Both teams have to deal with it and it really didn’t let up at any point during the game. It was even out there.”
The Galaxy played with the wind first and controlled and pressed the Fire for the entire first 45-minutes. The away side saw a possession split of just about 50-percent and created more chances, strung together more dangerous passes, and scored more goals than their opponent who saw passes sail into the wind and blow backward on most occasions.
And just as against Sporting KC in the previous match, the Galaxy forced bad turnovers and did their best to capitalize on them.
The Galaxy thought they had two goals in the first half, with Striker Ola Kamara getting a head to a ball in the sixth minute which was correctly ruled offside. And again in the ninth minute when he was judged to have been involved in the play on a Lletget cross.
The first goal was waived offside by the linesman and the second needed VAR in order to overturn the play. Although it’s likely both calls were viewed by VAR with the first being much closer than it initially looked.
Then, in the 34-minute, a bad Fire turnover found Ibrahimovic in the box all by himself. The 6-foot-5 Swede gobbled up the distance with his long lanky stride only to find the shot saved by Fire goalkeeper Richard Sanchez.
Ibrahimovic would have multiple other chances similar to this but failed to put any of them away. Still clearly working off the rust from his prolonged injury absence.
But in the first minute of stoppage time in the first half, everything finally clicked for the Galaxy who had peppered the Fire with dangerous chances since the start.
Taking 10 steps inside the attacking half, midfielder Perry Kitchen launched a wind-aided pass that almost got to Ibrahimovic. The Fire’s Jonathan Campbell intercepted the pass but was only able to push it as far as Galaxy captain Ashley Cole. Cole ran forward with the ball and then sent a left-footed cross that found Ibrahimovic head and shoulders above the Fire’s Bastian Schweinsteiger where he calmly headed the ball back across the goal and into the net.
Ibrahimovic’s flight and header on the play were effortless. As was the pass from Cole. Clearly, the two most experienced players on the Galaxy understand the shape of the runs they expect from each other and it was just another reminder of how good both players were throughout their high-profile careers.
But don’t think for a moment that Ibrahimovic was smitten with his performance on the afternoon.
“I feel I should have scored another two goals,” He said. “Because I missed great chances which I normally should not miss. But we won the game.”
The Galaxy took the single goal lead into the locker room definitely pondering how they weren’t leading by more.
“Me and some of the guys we were joking as we are coming off the field in the first half,” Galaxy goalkeeper David Bingham told reporters after the game. “It was probably one of the hardest halves I’ve had to play as a professional dealing with the elements and the wind.”
And the second half was where it really got ugly for Bingham and the rest of the team.
All the help the wind was giving in the first half to the Galaxy was against them in the second half. And nothing pointed out the lopsided nature of the two halves more than the 20 total corner kicks in the game nearly all conceded on the downwind side of the field.
Bingham was forced into several awkward saves and the Galaxy’s defending was stretched and pulled and prodded. The wind, blowing at over 20 m.p.h. for most of the match with gusts probably much higher, pulled the ball back into the Galaxy’s defensive end. Even balls on the ground were persuaded by the direction of the wind.
In the 64-minute it was the Fire’ Nemanja Nikolic, who was quieted by the Galaxy defense and the conditions for most of the night, who saw a wide-open header fired from about 12-yards out find the sternum of Bingham.
Four minutes later it was Fire substitute Aleksandar Katai who launched a wind-accelerated shot at the Galaxy ‘keeper who was forced to parry away the shot. It was one of his four saves on the night, but a critical one.
The Galaxy finally subbed Ibrahimovic off in the 80-minute with Galaxy head coach Sigi Schmid saying “he’s an experienced player; I told him at halftime, you go, I trust you, you let me know and he looked over at the bench so at that point, we made the change.”
But the Galaxy were able to weather the storm in the second half with ugly clearances, botched goal kicks, and inconsistent passing that made possession almost impossible. It wasn’t one to hang on the home refrigerator but it got things done and provided a gutsy response to last week’s defensive lapses and lack of scoring.
“It is just a matter of our character,” Schmid told reporters. “It’s a little bit like when we went into Vancouver where we were short a lot of players. Especially today we knew it was going to be a difficult game from the standpoint of the wind and the conditions. We had a disappointing result last week and I think it showed our character to come back and to play 1-0 at the end of the day.”
No one is complaining though. The Galaxy went on the road and got three very valuable road points that momentarily take them to second place in the Western Conference.
And that’s good because they’ll face a tough task next week when Atlanta United come to StubHub Center for the very first time in their history.
But on the day, the weather couldn’t keep the LA Galaxy from shining. And even Ibrahimovic saw the silver lining in that.
“I mean, we come with the sun, they come with the wind,” he said. “But the sun was stronger today so we’re happy.
“We fly home with three points.”