CARSON, Calif. – No Zlatan Ibrahimovic doesn’t necessarily mean no hope for the Galaxy, but it certainly isn’t the best of news for the five-time MLS Cup champions.
The 37-year-old striker will miss at least another game, this Saturday’s contest against visiting Minnesota United at Dignity Health Sports Park (7:30 p.m., Spectrum SportsNet), and Galaxy head coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto said he was hopeful Ibrahimovic will rejoin workouts soon.
“I think he will start training with us next week and try to get ready for the game against Portland,” he said Thursday. The Galaxy have two weeks off before returning to regular-season action on March 31 against the visiting Timbers.
“I hope he can come back against Portland and stay with the team all year.”
Schelotto, however, knows he has to be careful with his scoring sensation who had 22 goals and 10 assists last season and finished as MLS’ second-leading goal scorer behind only Atlanta United’s Josef Martinez, who had 31. Ibrahimovic, after all, recently turned 37 and not only is nursing a sore Achilles tendon but continues to deal with the aftermath of a potential career-ending knee injury he suffered in April of 2017.
“Yeah, sure,” Schelotto said in agreeing with a reporter when asked if he will play it safe with the Swedish international. “He will come with us when he knows everything’s OK to play. We don’t want to take any risk before that time. Maybe if it’s the (MLS Cup) final, you can consider it.
“It (Portland) is very important for us, but we need to think about the team and about him.”
Schelotto admitted to reporters the club is looking for help in the attack.
“We are working to bring in somebody,” he said.
Chris Pontius, who played at striker with disappointing results in the loss to Dallas (three shots, none on target) likely will be there again on Saturday. But another possibility is Uriel Antuna, a midfielder who was acquired in late January on a year-long loan from Manchester City. Antuna normally plays out wide, but Schelotto said his speed could be a real weapon up top.
“We practiced with Antuna in front in that position (today),” he said. “He’s fast and he can be dangerous for the defense in that position.”
Schelotto chose to be cautious about Antuna, too.
“He’s very young,” he said of the 21-year-old. “He needs to play and make mistakes, realize what he has to do on the field. Then he will improve and be a good player.
“We need to remember he’s 21, but we have lot of expectations for him.”
In other injury news, midfielder Romain Alessandrini (hamstring) also will miss the Minnesota game but, like Ibrahimovic, could return to training next week. Sebastian Lletget, who suffered a broken nose against Dallas, is expected to play but will wear a protective mask.
WORK IN PROGRESS
Pontius still vividly recalls the 2009 regular-season opener, when he was a member of D.C United and facing the Galaxy. He was at striker that day and scored a goal in a 2-2 tie.
It wasn’t the best position for the 31-year-old who normally plays out wide in midfield and it isn’t now, but he was at striker again in Dallas and could be there again Saturday against Minnesota United.
“I can play there,” he said. “It’s not the most comfortable thing for me, but I certainly can play there.
“I got my first opportunity in MLS because someone pulled their hamstring before we played our first game against LA in 2009 here. I did well in the game … I took it and ran with it.
“Opportunities come from injuries and people not playing well,” he continued. “You gotta take it and run with it.”
Pontius said the mindset from playing on the wing to striker changes dramatically.
“Everything,” he said. “Different runs, different defensive responsibilities. A lot of it is playing with your back to the goal. It’s something I need to get more comfortable with in terms of posting people up.
“You make your living in the box as a striker. You’re judged by the amount of goals you score.”
One thing is for certain, he pointed out. He is no Ibrahimovic.
“When you look at Zlatan,” he said, “there’s things he does that no one else in the world can do. I’m certainly not going to try and do those things. But the way he simplifies the game and the way he thinks ahead, those are all things we try and replicate.
“Maybe not obviously in the position he plays but just in training every day his quality shows. I’m not Zlatan. I can’t do the things he does.”
But he can take advantage of his current opportunity, he said.
“It’s just about taking it and seizing it,” he said. “We’re all trying to win games and we’re doing anything we can to do that.”
WORTH THE WAIT
Ethan Zubak was all of 16 years old when he joined the Galaxy academy five years ago. The Corona native went on to play for Galaxy II, captained the side in 2018 and even scored the fastest hat trick in USL history.
But for all of his success at the lower levels, Zubak never stopped wondering what it would be like to play for the parent club. He finally got that chance in last Saturday’s 2-0 loss to FC Dallas when he subbed on for Emmanuel Boateng and played the final 15 minutes.
“The whole time I was with Galaxy II and the academy,” he said, “obviously I kept dreaming of this day and visualizing it. It all came a little fast and maybe I thought it would be a little different, but it’s good that it’s over.” He admitted everything was a blur when he signed his first professional contract late last week with the Galaxy and then was informed he was traveling with the team to Frisco, Texas.
It’s been about a week since the wild chain of events and Zubak, who turns 21 next month, said he’s gotten quite a lesson in reality.
“It’s finally sunk in,” he said. “Obviously everything was really fast last weekend. Now I’ve had a chance to settle down and train and it’s really hit hard.
“My head was all over the place last weekend. I was super excited, but now I’ve calmed down and I’m glad I have.”
Schelotto warned him before the game he might go in and instructed him to simply be prepared.
“He told me there’s no need to be nervous or anything like that,” Zubak recalled. “He just told me to be ready if my name was called.”
Zubak also said he wasn’t as nervous as one might think of someone making his first MLS appearance.
“Surprisingly not very much,” he said. “I just felt ready to go in. I spent a lot of time, years, in preparation for this.“For the most part, I was ready.”