CARSON, Calif. — Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored the game-winning goal for the LA Galaxy in their 2-1 victory over Real Salt Lake on Sunday evening in front of 20,615 at Dignity Health Sports Park.
For Ibrahimovic, who scored his eighth goal of the season, and the Galaxy, it wasn’t a great second half. An issue of consistency the club continues to have even as they continue to climb up the standings.
But the result is still three additional points and stretches the Galaxy’s home record to 6-0-0 for a total of 18 points — a feat that hasn’t been matched since their inaugural season in 1996 when the Galaxy were playing at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.
They also earned 13 points in May and averaged 2.60 points per game during the month. That bested their average in April (2.25) and led them to the best points per game average in Major League Soccer (2.44).
“It was a good game today,” Ibrahimovic told reporters. “I think the first half we were excellent. The second, I think we were a little bit tired — we couldn’t stand up to the pressure we did in the first. And the same thing in the possession, we couldn’t hold up the possession like we did in the first. So I think fatigue came in the picture.
“This is also the third game this week. We played a couple of games this week, so at least we won, and we got what we wanted.”
The win moves the Galaxy to within one point of league and conference-leading LAFC who have played one more game than the Galaxy. And it also brings their points-haul to seven in their last three games as they ride a six-game unbeaten streak.
The first half featured a different look from the Galaxy as Ibrahimovic, who said he was “lonely” up front, dropped deeper into the midfield. That forced midfielders Sebastian Lletget, Chris Pontius, and Uriel Antuna to make runs in behind the six-foot-five Swede and the result was an endless run at RSL goalkeeper Andrew Putna.
“He definitely helped out sort of building up, finding himself in those spaces, in those holes,” midfielder Sebastian Lletget explained about Ibrahimovic’s positioning. “And kind of me, or Joe [Corona], kind of replacing him as a number nine. It was kind of like that fluidity, and I thought we did a good job in the first half.”
It was precisely such a play that saw the Galaxy score their first goal of the game when a pass from center back Diego Polenta squeaked just by Ibrahimovic who was dummying the ball and went through to midfielder Chris Pontius — who returned to the starting lineup for the first time since scoring a goal against Minnesota in March.
Pontius was able to square the ball across the box to 21-year-old Uriel Antuna who buried his first MLS and Galaxy goal to give the home team the lead in the 16th minute.
The Galaxy would hold that lead until the second half when Salt Lake would take over the majority of the possession and chance creation.
RSL midfielder Damir Kreilach would rattle the crossbar from about 22-yards away in the 55th minute, and the Galaxy would finally concede the tying goal nine minutes later. That’s when Donny Toia would finish off a rebound from defender Arron Herrera on the one mistake 20-year-old Galaxy defender Diedie Traore would make during his first MLS start.
The Galaxy would survive the remaining onslaught until Ibrahimovic scored the game-winner and walk away with the three points.
“He’s young,” Galaxy head coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto said about Traore. “Maybe he has to improve some things. For example, on the goal, maybe he was missing his place. But he had a really good game.”
Ibrahimovic was back to some of his usual mind games as he battled with Salt Lake defender Nedum Onuoha for most of the match.
That led to an intentional foul from Ibrahimovic on Onuoha in the 60th minute when he grabbed the six-foot Nigerian by the shoulder and dragged him to the ground.
The two would battle further in the next minutes and would eventually come to a head when Ibrahimovic, after scoring in the 78th minute, would scream in the direction of Onuoha from just inches away.
When asked about the incident, Ibrahimovic preferred to keep things out of the press.
“What happens on the field stays on the field,” he said. “I like to feel alive. I like when it becomes duels and that. Because sometimes I – not that I fall asleep – but I don’t feel alive if I don’t activate me. They need to activate me, also. Because the rest becomes too easy.”
But that didn’t stop Ibrahimovic from attempting to apologize to Onuaha after the game. And for that, he entered the visitor’s locker room where Onuaha refused the apology. That led to Ibrahimovic being “guided” out by a Galaxy staff member.
“I know me. When I get angry I feel good,” Ibrahimovic concluded.
And for opposing teams and coaches, it’s probably a good idea to not make Ibrahimovic angry as the Galaxy continue to ride his goal-scoring success.