CARSON, Calif. – The LA Galaxy scored three goals on Saturday night to beat the Vancouver Whitecaps 3-0 at StubHub Center and move the club within one-point of Real Salt Lake who holds the final playoff position in the Western Conference.
It was a two-goal effort from Zlatan Ibrahimović who scored his nineteenth and twentieth goals of the season. That’s now a mark that ties him with Galaxy Legends Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan with each having scored 20 goals for the season in 2015 and 2008 respectively.
And it’s an effort that might most be remembered for Ibrahimović turning down a chance for his second hat-trick of the season and his 21stgoal of the season when he passed on a 77th-minute penalty kick to teammate Romain Alessandrini. That goal would have tied him for second all-time for Galaxy goals in a season with Eduardo Hurtado (21 goals in 1996).
“He came. He asked. And I give,” Ibrahimovic said of Alessandrini asking to take the penalty kick. “Like I said when I came the first day, I’m not here to do a one-man show. I’m here for the team – to help them.
“And we need all the players we have,” he continued. “If Romain (Alessandrini) feels confident of course he should take it. Absolutely. I think it was more important than my hat-trick.”
It was another quick start for the Galaxy (12-11-8) who scored in just the fourth minute when an Ibrahimović pass from just inside the box found Alessandrini streaking into the penalty box. He was too quick for the defense and Alessandrini was taken down by Marcel de Jong.
Ibrahimovic stepped up and buried the penalty past Stefan Marinovic to give the home team an early lead.
It was the second time in two games the Galaxy had opened the scoring within the first 10 minutes and the second time in two games that an Ibrahimovic pass had led to a Galaxy penalty kick – doing it for the opening goal of the Galaxy 3-0 win over Seattle last weekend on a pass to Ola Kamara.
The Whitecaps (11-12-7), also fighting for the last playoff spot in the conference, and also playing with an interim head coach – Craig Dalrymple – did their best to not let the game get away from them and pressed the Galaxy’s newly stout defense for the final 25-minutes of the first half.
But like most of the night, their chances were dangerous, but just couldn’t find a way past the Galaxy’s defense.
But Ibrahimovic would find his second goal of the game in the second half when he played a ball to Galaxy defender Rolf Feltscher. Feltscher quickly passed the ball back to Ibrahimovic and the six-foot-five Swede – playing in front of more than 600 of his countrymen who were attending Swedish Heritage night – turned and ran at the retreating Whitecaps defense.
With a simple shift of the hips, Ibrahimovic moved Aly Ghazal out his path and ripped a bullet right past Marinovic’s arms. It was an emphatic finish that was greeted with a loud roar from the sellout crowd of 25,659 and gave the Galaxy a 2-0 lead in the 58th-minute.
The Galaxy have now scored six goals in their last two games and have posted back-to-back shutouts for the second time this season – the first time coming in 1-0 victories over Montreal and San Jose in May.
But what really stood out in the victory was the Galaxy’s passing in tight spaces and the continued success of Jonathan dos Santos who, since pairing with Sebastian Lletget in the victory over Seattle, has been a game-changer.
The Mexican National Team player controlled the midfield, was tenacious on defense, and exploited the gaps in the center of the field throughout the night. And It was dos Santos’ ability to spread passes and connect the defense with the offense that saw the Galaxy’s success for the second straight game.
“We’ve always seen it in training and we’ve never really had a chance to show it – the opportunity was never there,” Lletget explained about his partnership with dos Santos. “Either formations or a change of coach now; there’s so many changes now and we finally have the opportunity to play with each other and we know how good we can be.”
And while Ibrahimovic will get the credit for scoring twice, its dos Santos, Lletget, and the rest of the Galaxy defense who have been doing some serious work to keep the other teams off the scoresheet.
The playoff race is definitely on for the club. They’ll watch the scoreboard as Sporting Kansas City – their next road opponent – will host RSL in hopes of Sporting grabbing all three points from the visitors from Salt Lake.
“Yeah,” Alessandrini responded to a reporter’s question about being big Kansas City fans tomorrow. “But not next week,” he clarified.
However, it happens the Galaxy have a firm belief that they’re one of the most dangerous teams in Major League Soccer.
“I said here last time that we are a threat for every team if we play like this,” Ibrahimovic told reporters after the game about the growing confidence of the team. “I’ll bet you whatever you want. Nobody wants to get us in the playoff because we are dangerous if we do what we do like we do it now. Just hope for them we don’t make it to the playoff.”
“The club changed coach and they wanted a reaction,” Ibrahimovic concluded. “I think they got a reaction.”