The LA Galaxy (9-5-1; 28 pts) won for the second time in two games as they blanked Sporting KC (3-5-5; 14 pts) by a final score of 2-0 in Kansas City, Kansas on Wednesday night at Children’s Mercy Park in front of 19,979 fans.
For the Galaxy, it was their first win against Sporting KC on the road since September of 2007 — David Beckham’s first year with the club – and back when the Kansas City Wizard’s, SKC’s predecessor, played at Arrowhead Stadium in another state (Missouri). It was also their second consecutive shutout and their first overall victory over Sporting since April of 2015.
And it came after the club was unable to land in Kansas City on Tuesday night because of thunderstorms and a tornado. Instead, the Galaxy had to charter a flight from St. Louis that had them land with a little more than seven hours before kickoff. But the 22-hour travel window didn’t seem to leave them unprepared for the game.
The Galaxy got an early second-half goal from newly signed Favio Alvarez — his first with the club in just three appearances –, and they got a goal and an assist from Zlatan Ibrahimovic as he returned from suspension and broke his two-game goalscoring drought.
It was Ibrahimovic’s 10th goal of the season and his third assist and it makes for 32 goals and 13 assists in 38 career appearances since joining the Galaxy.
“We played against a good team,” Ibrahimovic said. “They don’t make it easy for the teams that come here. I heard the last time Galaxy won here was 2007, so we broke that record also. We are happy.”
Galaxy head coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto started a decidedly more defensive lineup than he did against Orlando on Friday night. Perry Kitchen slotted in for Joe Corona who began the game on the bench, and Dave Romney filled in for the injured Rolf Feltscher.
The Galaxy defense was missing three players with Diego Polenta still nursing an ankle injury, and Julian Araujo was away with the US U-20’s in the U-20 World Cup.
The Galaxy defense was more than satisfactory on the night. Even when they allowed chances, they were quick to recover and heap pressure on the ball handler.
Giancarlo Gonzalez was solid all night, Dan Steres saved a ball off the line in the 15th minute, and Jorgen Skjelvik shutdown Sporting’s leading goal-scorer (Johnny Russel) the entire night. Romney was also sharp on the right, repelling many chances that the home team was able to generate.
The stats are lopsided toward Sporting in almost every view except the scoreboard. They had more than 65-percent possession and doubled up the Galaxy on shots 18 to nine.
But when it came to creating chances, Sporting couldn’t capitalize on theirs while the Galaxy did reasonably well to make there’s count. And the Galaxy wound up getting five shots on goal and making two count — KC also took five shots on goal with Galaxy goalkeeper David Bingham backing up his six-save night on Friday with a five-save night on Wednesday.
On the offensive side of things, Both Romney and Steres got headers on goal that forced a save from Sporting goalkeeper Tim Melia on two set-pieces, and Ibrahimovic forced Melia to make a big save late in the game that would have sealed the game earlier than his 86th-minute strike that finally put the game to bed.
“For us, we beat a really good team,” Schelotto told reporters. “I think they know how to play. The coach has been here the last ten years. We could control them after 20 minutes and more in the second half. We used the space.”
21-year-old Uriel Antuna provided the motor for the Galaxy as both him and Alvarez pushed higher up the field and continually pressed the KC back line and midfield in search of that space. And Kitchen and Jonathan dos Santos played destroyers through the center of the park.
But what became readily apparent through all the defensive movements for the Galaxy is that on offense Alvarez and Ibrahimovic were starting to get on the same page.
And that’s what happened when a crossed ball found Ibrahimovic deeper to the left side of the box where a header back toward the middle of the penalty box found Alvarez.
The header from Ibrahimovic led to a header from Alvarez who buried it to Melia’s right to give the Galaxy an early second-half lead must ten minutes into the final 45.
“It was good,” Ibrahimovic said when asked about the match. “We played with two strikers in the first half, and we created good chances. I think we should have scored one or two goals.
“In the second half, we changed the system again, and it helped because we could close the spaces more because Kansas plays good football. They have a good system. You need to have patience against them and then punish them when you steal the ball, or they make a mistake.”
Kitchen also deserves some praise on the offensive side of things as he sprung Ibrahimovic in the 69th minute that the Swede ultimately failed to convert and he was the one that started the counter-attack that resulted in the game-clinching goal in the 86th minute.
The Galaxy were well organized in blocks of four on defense, pressured anytime Sporting showed them the ball, and ultimately let the home team tire themselves out. A tactic that was more than obvious when seeing the effort KC had put in on Sunday evening in their 3-2 win over the Seattle Sounders.
Make no mistakes, Sporting missed many open chances. But the Galaxy were always there to clean up the mess. Indeed, a more-rested team probably buries one or two of those clear-cut chances. But in the end, the scoreboard showed a Galaxy victory that was earned as much on the field as it was on the whiteboard.
The Galaxy will now return to Los Angeles for a Sunday evening matchup with the visiting New England Revolution (7:30 p.m.; SpectrumSN) as they, for the moment, climb to second in the conference and league standings.
And with 28 points from 15 games, the Galaxy are just four points from matching their total points in 2017 and at a point total where it took them 19 games to accomplish in 2018.
“We always want to be at the top,” Skjelvik admitted after the match. “That’s where the LA Galaxy belongs, and we’re going to work to be up there.
“We just need to take it game-by-game and win the next game and the next game to add up points.”