CARSON, Calif. – The Galaxy’s worst fears materialized Friday when Major League Soccer’s disciplinary committee suspended Zlatan Ibrahimovic two games and issued and undisclosed fine for an incident involving New York City FC goalkeeper Sean Johnson during last Sunday’s 2-0 loss at Dignity Health Sports Park.
That the decision was made wasn’t that surprising, since some kind of penalty had been rumored to be in the works for days, but Galaxy head coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto said he hadn’t heard about the status of his striker when he met with reporters following training.
Reports regarding the suspension began circulating by mid-afternoon, and at least two players revealed the Galaxy will be missing their leading scorer in Sunday’s home match against the winless Colorado Rapids (5 p.m., Spectrum SportsNet).
“He’s our No. 9, he’s our goal scorer,” Sebastian Lletget said of Ibrahimovic, who is second in MLS with nine goals. LAFC’s Carlos Vela is first with 13. “It won’t be easy. It will depend on other guys, including myself, and we have to step up and fill that role.
“We want him back as soon as possible. He’s an important player for us.”
Unfortunately, he will have to wait at least Wednesday, May 29 in Kansas City to see him back on the field again.
“We know he’s an important player for us, but we have prepared all week,” defender Giancarlo Gonzalez said. “We do have great players who are ready if he’s not there Sunday.
“They’ll have an opportunity to show what they can do.”
Ibrahimovic was hit in the back by Johnson after a shot by the Galaxy’s Chris Pontius hit the crossbar late in the second half of last Sunday’s loss. Ibrahimovic retaliated by grabbing Johnson by the neck, and the players tumbled to the ground. Johnson confronted Ibrahimovic after the game and teammates had to separate them.
“I think maybe we’ll be a little surprised if I can’t play him Sunday,” Schelotto told reporters before news broke about the suspension. “You know the play we’re talking about. Nothing happened. He said something to the goalie, the goalie said something to him.”
The suspension is the third in MLS for the Swedish standout. He was red-carded last season for slapping Montreal’s Michael Petrasso and missed another game in 2018 after he opted out of the All-Star Game.
Lletget said Ibrahimovic’s absence presents an interesting opportunity.
“It’s a little bit different,” he said. “We might have to change the formation. Tactically the coach is going to ask certain players to do certain things differently, but we’re excited to take on this challenge.
“It’s a long season, and we’re going to run through a lot of these things. It’s good to start now.”
Ibrahimovic, by the way, chose not to speak with reporters.
The Galaxy did receive some good news Friday. Midfielder Jonathan dos Santos, who missed last weekend’s match with an injured left hamstring, was deemed ready to go this weekend by Schelotto.
And the status of recent acquisition Favio Alvarez, has finally been settled with the Galaxy announcing after training that his P-1 Visa has been acquired. He will be available to play on Sunday.
A GOOD FIT
Gonzalez has been making a smooth transition since the Costa Rican defender joined the Galaxy in mid-April. He even progressed enough to make his first start at center back last Sunday against New York City FC.
“Adapting, I think, has been going well,” the veteran of 70 appearances for his country’s national team said Friday. “My teammates have been great, and that’s been super helpful.
“I struggled with the time-zone change in the beginning” – he had been playing Italy, which is nine hours ahead of Los Angeles – “after coming from Europe, but little by little I’ve felt better.”
Schelotto said the 31-year-old is just the kind of player the Galaxy needed.
“He’s very professional and is training really well,” he said. “He’s supported a lot of players … he’s a wonderful teammate who will help a lot.”
Gonzalez said he felt comfortable in his first start. The Galaxy went to a five-man backline to help offset the loss of dos Santos, who was out with a hamstring injury. The Mexican international, however, is expected to return this weekend.
“I felt great physically,” Gonzalez said. “I felt backed up by my teammates, and I tried to give my best. I feel like I was able to keep up the full 90 minutes … I hadn’t played a full game in like two months.
“Now I just have to keep working hard and help the team as much as I can.”
Members of the Galaxy were thrilled at this week’s news that former head coach Bruce Arena had been named head coach and general manager of the New England Revolution, which is last in the Eastern Conference with a 3-8-2 record.
“I think it’s fantastic to have him back, fantastic to have him as part of our league again,” said Galaxy president Chris Klein, who not only played for him but later became his boss. “Everything’s more interesting when Bruce is there.
“He certainly has proven what he can do with a club and I’m excited to see what he can do in New England.”
Galaxy Technical Director Jovan Kirovski, whose association with Arena goes back to the 1996 Olympics, when Kirovski was a member of the squad coached by Arena, said the disappointment of failing to qualify the U.S. at the recent World Cup in Russia spurred him to return to the game.
“He can sit at home and retire, but he wants to continue, especially after the disappointment of the World Cup,” Kirovski said. “I think that’s in his head, no matter what he says.
“I think there’s still something there, but I think he wants to get back in it. He loves the grind every day.”
Defender Dave Romney, one of a few players left over from when Arena last coached the Galaxy in 2016, had some simple advice should any New England players ask him what to expect from the venerable, old coach.
“Just get ready to win,” he said.