CARSON, Calif. — You’d be excused for thinking the LA Galaxy were in for a fierce battle after they drew level with Sporting KC in the 32nd-minute of their match on Sunday evening in front of 22,465 at Dignity Health Sports Park.
And somehow, buried beneath all those goals was a Zlatan Ibrahimovic hat trick that saw the six-foot-five Swede surpass Galaxy legend Carlos Ruiz as the club’s best single-season goalscorer (Ruiz, 2002, 24 goals in 25 games played).
Ibrahimovic, started the night just one behind the Guatemalan striker and ended his night with another 90 minutes played and with 26 goals in 25 games played this season.
“I think he brings a lot of confidence to the rest of the team,” Galaxy midfielder Joe Corona told reporters after the game about Ibrahimovic. “I think today the chemistry was very important.
“In the middle, we had a lot of touches, a lot of chemistry playing together with Jona (dos Santos) and Seba (Lletget). And I think that really made the game a little quicker going to the front and up top. I mean Pavon, Ibra, and Uriel (Antuna) were having good nights. So it was perfect.”
Surprisingly, it was Sporting that got on the board first. That, after a rather innocuous cross, forced Galaxy defender Daniel Steres to head the ball out wide.
That’s when Sporting’s Gerso intercepted the clearance and quickly slotted to Felipe Gutierrez who faked Steres into a tackle and easily slotted past Bingham.
But that would be the last goal Sporting would score until the game was nearly over.
Uriel Antuna, who would end the night with a goal and one assist, should have also received an assist for his creative run that forced a Matt Besler handball in the box.
Ibrahimovic stepped up to the line in the 32nd-minute and hit the ball to goalkeeper Tim Melia’s left. Melia saved the first shot, but his rebound was back at Ibrahimovic, and he casually slotted the ball into the empty net.
It was Ibrahimovic’s first penalty kick miss since joining MLS (10 of 11), but it still saw him tie the single-season record for Galaxy goals.
The half drew to a close with a controversial yellow card to Sporting’s Graham Smith after he scissor-tackled Galaxy midfielder Cristian Pavon in the 43rd-minute. Referee Ted Unkel issued the card, but replays showed it was more than worthy of a red card and could be subsequent to the MLS Disciplinary Committee’s review.
But the fire had clearly been building for the Galaxy in the halftime locker room.
Joe Corona would score his first goal as a member of the Galaxy just three minutes after halftime. It came off some excellent body position by Ibrahimovic who shielded a Rolf Feltscher cross to Pavon who lobbed a chip into the box for a wide-open header from Corona in the 48th-minute.
Sporting players wanted a foul called on Ibrahimovic, but the replays clearly showed the big-man having every right to his position on the ball.
Then Ibrahimovic would add his second on a good bit of work from Galaxy midfielder Sebastian Lletget. Lletget, who fought through a double team to pass the ball through to Feltscher, and whose early cross was trapped by Ibrahimovic in the box. He shifted his weight to his left foot, after trapping the ball with his right, and held off the physical challenge from Smith. Then, pulling the ball from beneath his feet, he was able to hit a left-footed strike into the back of the net for the 3-1 lead in the 51st-minute.
Antuna would get his first goal of the night in the 69th-minute, followed shortly by Lletget’s first of the night just eight minutes later.
Lletget would make it 6-1 when he scored his second in the 79th-minute of the match before Ibrahimovic would score his third of the night by making it 7-1 in the 85th-minute.
“It feels good,” Ibrahimovic said of breaking the Galaxy single-season record. “I said from the first day when I came, that I’m not here for vacation. I’m here to perform and to show everybody what the game is about. And I think that the two years I had here I’ve done good things, amazing things, and perfect things.
“So I just have to keep going, keep being in shape, and help my team in the best way. And that is by scoring goals.”
At that point in the match, the Galaxy had erased the minus-five goal differential that they entered the game with and were sitting at plus-one — a stat that may come into some complex tie-breaking scenarios before the season is over.
But Guiterrez would fire a deflected shot off the back of Steres for Sporting’s second goal of the night and bring the Galaxy to an even goal differential.
The seven goals the Galaxy scored tie their second-most goals ever scored in a game as they beat the Colorado Rapids at home 7-4 on May 5, 1998. A week later, that same ’98 Galaxy team would go on to beat FC Dallas 8-1 at the Cotton Bowl. That game remains the Galaxy’s largest margin of victory and their highest-scoring game in team history.
The 2019 Galaxy had never scored more than three goals in a season before this game. And while most goals have gone through Ibrahimovic throughout this season, the Galaxy had four goalscorers on the scoresheet. But it still took the combined efforts of Corona, Antuna, and Lletget (2) to outscore Ibrahimovic on the night.
Pavon would end the night with only one assist, but the Argentine newcomer would miss a couple of chances by mere inches. And throughout the night he was the engine that propelled this Galaxy team past a better-than-their-record Sporting side.
The Galaxy climbed back above the playoff line and now find themselves in the fifth position in the heavily contested Western Conference with a home match against the Montreal Impact next weekend. With 45 points the Galaxy are just four points behind the second-place Seattle Sounders, two points behind third-place Minnesota United, and only one point behind Real Salt lake who hold the fourth position.
The win vaulted the Galaxy over FC Dallas, the Portland Timbers, and the San Jose Earthquakes — all of whom lost this weekend.
But the big question will be how the Galaxy keep this momentum and confidence going? They’ve had several stellar performances throughout the season, but none was more emphatic than this scoreline proves.
And despite some tough results recently, Galaxy Head Coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto has some confidence in his team.
“I think today we were very efficient,” he said. “Sometimes we couldn’t be efficient, and we tie, or we lost a game. But I feel like in the last four or five, or six games, we are getting better playing.”