Carson, CA — Zlatan Ibrahimovic can score goals. That’s the obvious takeaway from the LA Galaxy 4-3 come-from-behind victory over Orlando City on Sunday night in front of nearly 25,000 fans at StubHub Center.
His three goals, for his first MLS hat trick, and a goal and assists from a revived Giovani dos Santos were enough to see the Galaxy survive a feisty Orlando team that had done everything right for most of the game.
“I told the team, just now, after the game I said ‘If we keep doing this, I’ll be 90 by the time the season’s over,'” Galaxy head coach Sigi Schmid joked about his team’s string of wild games. “It’s great for the fans, it’s great for TV, and all that stuff, but it’s really hard on me emotionally.”
The Galaxy started the night by creating some very dangerous opportunities but eventually allowed Orlando to score the game’s opening goal. Cristian Higuita finished off a Sasha Kljeistan cross to give the visitors an early 1-0 lead in the 18-minute.
The Galaxy would answer back in the 39-minute after defender Dave Romney lobbed a perfectly weighted ball to Ibrahimovic. Ibrahimovic brought the ball down and fired a pass to the top of the box where Giovani dos Santos, running into the play late, hit a right-footed shot into the net.
“I wish he (Giovani dos Santos) would’ve used his right foot a second time,” Schmid said, referencing a shot in the 50-minute where Giovani dos Santos clanked a left-footed bullet ofcrossbarss bar. “I think he would’ve had two goals. But again, I’ve been very pleased with Giovanni [Dos Santos] effort and everything else.
But the score wouldn’t remain tied for long — a common theme on the night.
In the 44-minute Kljestian would again find himself open in the box. His low driving cross was looking for another Orlando attacker inside the box, but instead found Galaxy defender Michael Ciani who was frantically running back towards his own goal. The French defender attempted to make a play on the ball but instead back-heeled the cross into his own net.
Orlando would lead at halftime but the break would allow Schmid to get his displeasure across to the rest of the team.
“He was, to be fair – he was right,” Galaxy substitute Sebastian Lletget said of Schmid’s halftime speech. “I think we were all on the right page. It was that we thought we were playing great and the manager comes in with a completely different story. He was definitely right and we responded.”
The Galaxy did respond. Ibrahimovic got his first goal of the night two minutes after the break. Giovani dos Santos, ranging out wide to the left took the ball at the edge of the box and floated it towards the back post. Ibrahimovic outjumped teammate Chris Pontius and headed the ball inside the far post to once again bring the game level.
But Orlando would answer again, this time through striker Dom Dwyer. Dwyer floated between defender Jorgen Skjelvik and Galaxy captain Ashley Cole as the cross from Mohamed El-Munir beat them both. His header was emphatic and quickly brought Orlando the lead for the third time on the night, just seven minutes after the game had been tied for the second time.
Ibrahimovic would get his second goal fo the night in the 67-minute. That’s when a great, quick break from the Galaxy, which started with Ibrahimovic, found striker Ola Kamara running a channel to the right. He stretched his run out wide, waiting for Ibrahimovic to beat his man to the back post. Kamara’s cross was inch-perfect and Ibrahimovic’s diving header crushed the back of the net.
The game-winner came just four minutes later. That’s when a hopeful ball that was intended for Pontius inside the box, was headed directly to Ibrahimovic by Orlando’s Amro Tarek. Tarek’s attempted clearance put the ball on a platter for Ibrahimovic who crushed the ball across the goal and into the back of the net.
“Tonight was a good day for me, for the team,” Ibrahimovic told reporters after the game. “I scored three goals, I did one assist. And we win the game. If we wouldn’t win the game, it doesn’t matter if your score three goals or how many assists you do. Because to win is something different.”
But defense continues to be a sore spot. Even with the Galaxy’s nine-game unbeaten streak and even with their ability to come back in games. The Galaxy are 3-0-1 in the last four games. All of which were come-back victories or draws.
The club is currently in third place in the Western Conference and is looking to extend their unbeaten streak at Colorado next weekend (Aug 4).
Ashley Cole, however, isn’t buying it.
“No. We have to thank Ibra.” Cole said solemnly of the Galaxy being able to something positive out of the results they’re getting. “Since he’s come in, he’s scored important goals for us and dug us out of very, very deep holes. We keep kind of conceding silly and sloppy goals. And against good teams… I think we’re going to get punished.”
The Galaxy will hope that without a midweek game to play this week, they’ll finally get some good rest. Because the next three games are all winnable affairs — with games against the Rapids twice and a home game against Minnesota United.
On the night, Ibrahimovic jumped to second place in Major League Soccer’s race for the Golden Boot. He now sits nine goals short of leader Josef Martinez who has 24 on the season. But if anyone were to catch Martinez, it would certainly be Ibrahimovic.