Carson, CA — The LA Galaxy, without a single Designated Player in the lineup, scored three second-half goals en route to a 3-0 victory over visiting Real Salt Lake in front of 25,462 fans at StubHub Center on a beautiful Saturday night.
And after a first half that was devoid of anything remotely interesting, a brace by Zlatan Ibrahimovic and an add-on goal by Ola Kamara saw the Galaxy jump well past Real Salt Lake (7-7-1) who held the third spot in the Western Conference entering the match.
The Galaxy (6-7-2) played the game with Romain Alessandrini who was a late scratch to the lineup with an apparent quad strain. The club was also without Jonathan and Giovani dos Santos who are both on international duty with Mexico for the World Cup.
Instead, Galaxy head coach Sigi Schmid started a front four that included Kamara, Ibrahimovic, Sebastian Lletget, and Chris Pontius. With Perry Kitchen, Servando Carrasco sitting in front of the best available back four — Dave Romney, Michael Ciani, Jorgen Skjelvik, and captain Ashley Cole. And once again morphed the formation into something resembling a 3-5-2.
“We said ‘hey,’ we’ve been scoring more goals when we’ve been playing two forwards and playing more of a 3-5-2 or a 5-3-2 or whatever you want to call it,” Schmid told reporters after the game. “And so that’s the way we came out tonight. And I thought, well you know, obviously we did well and we got a little more direct.”
Ibrahimovic also was in favor of the formation change.
“Today I think, when we changed to two strikers it worked easier,” he said. “I think we are more stable. Today, we were more direct. We were more in our game. We were doing things that we were better at and we do it much better like that. Let’s continue like this. We have been working the last two weeks on the things we are doing right now and you can see the result.”
The Galaxy found the first 45 minutes tough to deal with, however, as Real Salt Lake played organized and cautious behind the ball.
The only real clear-cut chance coming from a nifty move from Ibrahimovic that saw him cut toward the end-line and find a late run from Kitchen in the 42-minute.
Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando, quick off his line, saved the shot keeping the game scoreless.
Just before the half, Lletget, tasked with running the attacking part of the midfield from the center position, slid awkwardly trying to keep a ball in play. His slide saw him catch his right ankle underneath his body and the midfielder would be limping until referee Ted Unkel blew for halftime.
But with the score knotted at zero, the Galaxy attempted to return Lleget to the field only to see him subbed off in the 49-minute for Bradford Jamieson IV with an apparent ankle injury with the severity unknown at this time.
Jamieson, making his first league appearance in 2018 after suffering a concussion early in preseason training, was exactly the breath of fresh air the stagnant Galaxy offense needed.
In fact, it was a wonderful crossing pass to the back post from Jamieson’s right foot that found Ibrahimovic in the 56-minute. The initial header was blocked down, but it dropped just feet from the goal line. And despite Ibrahimovic’s reaching leg, Real Salt Lake’s Sunny was able to clear the ball off the line and away from danger.
“I tell you, before the operation, it would go in because my leg would be longer” Ibrahimovic joked with reporters. “So after the operation, my leg is shorter. It was close. Very close.”
But that was just a sign of things to come. With Jamieson injecting pace and creativity, the Galaxy suddenly had energy to spare.
It was Pontius, who had a standout game for the Galaxy — something Schmid was quick to recognize — who found Ibrahimovic at the back post again.
The ball, bouncing high after pinging around the Real Salt Lake box, was clipped toward Ibrahimovic. But Rimando, coming off his line, would get in the way of the floated ball, and in uncharacteristic fashion, nearly whiffed on the attempted punch. Instead, the ball popped directly to Ibrahimovic’s head and the Swedish striker emphatically finished it off for his sixth goal of the season in the 61-minute.
“When I started to work with (Marco) Van Basten he said to me the first thing ‘the best way to help your team is to score goals. Because that is the striker’s job,'” Ibrahimovic explained. “So that is my main objective, to try to score and then create chances for my teammates”
And Ibrahimovic wouldn’t be done scoring on the night.
He followed up his first header with a second. This time getting a crossed ball from Carrasco in the 67-minute that saw the 6-foot-5 striker command his airspace by jumping over Real Salt Lake defender Justen Glad. His header found the lower-left corner and the Galaxy jumped to a 2-0 lead. A lead they haven’t had since a 2-1 win over the Portland Timbers in the first game of the season (March 4, 2018).
Ola Kamara would add to the scoresheet in the 76-minute with an assist from Pontius. Ibrahimovic’s verticle run allowed for a pass to Kamara who was trailing the play at the top of the box. Kamara moved to his left and fired a left-footed shot across Rimando and into the side of the net for the eventual 3-0 lead and the eventual victory.
But the game wasn’t without some controversy.
Perhaps the Galaxy were lucky to be playing with all 11 players after a clear-cut case of Denial of a Goal Scoring Opportunity (DOGSO) saw Skjelvik go punished with only a yellow card in the 53-minute.
With Real Salt Lake’s Corey Baird in a breakaway, the Norwegian defender took out Baird as the last man back with nearly no attempt to get the ball. But VAR didn’t call for a review and the game went on 11 v 11.
The Galaxy are 3-1-1 in their last five league matches and seem to be showing signs of beginning to understand how this team should play together.
The US Open Cup match against Portland on June 15, will see any vacation plans cut short for the Galaxy, but perhaps keeping this momentum going through the World Cup break is more important.
With a possible 57 points available, the Galaxy sit just two points out of a playoff position and only nine points back of conference-leaders Sporting KC.
“We talked about wanting to start the road to the playoffs,” Schmid explained. “We talked about that before the San Jose Earthquakes game, and we’ve wanted to build up ever since.
“If you look at our last four or five league games, you look at that record, that’s a record that’s good enough to get you into the playoffs. So if we can play every set of five games like that I’ll be happy, and that’s the objective for us now.”