CARSON, Calif. — The LA Galaxy have a legitimate scoring threat, but it’s not necessarily who you think.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic has the club record for single-season goals with 27 — including four in his last two games — but the 6-foot-5 Swedish standout is getting competition from Uriel Antuna, a 5-foot-9, 130-pounder from Mexico who joined the club on loan from England’s Manchester City in January and has given the five-time MLS Cup champions some welcome speed on the wing.
He’s also suddenly scoring with three goals in his last three games, including the game-winner in Saturday’s hard-earned 2-1 victory over Montreal in front of a Dignity Health Sports Park crowd of 25,482.
Antuna even kissed the goal after he scored against the Impact.
“It’s not a message but rather a way of showing my appreciation for giving me the opportunity to be here,” he said, “and to be able to play again after being in the Netherlands (with FC Groningen, his previous team) and not playing.
“It’s a way of showing my appreciation.”
Galaxy head coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto understandably has been impressed with Antuna’s play of late.
“He’s getting better in terms of having confidence with himself,” Schelotto said. “He’s giving us speed, assists and goals. He has gotten confidence from when (Mexico) won the Gold Cup.
“Right now he is at a really good level.”
Antuna, whose goal in the 50th minute was his fifth of the season and broke a 1-1 tie, scored in last Sunday’s 7-2 rout of Sporting Kansas City and also in a 4-3 loss to Seattle on Sept. 1. Before that — and not counting his five goals with the Mexican national team this summer — he hadn’t scored since a 3-2 loss to the New York Red Bulls on May 4, a span of 17 games.
“He’s playing really well,” Galaxy defender Dave Romney said. “He’s stretching the field. He’s the energizer bunny.”
The unassuming Antuna laughed when he was asked if he was trying to chase down Ibrahimovic, who trails Los Angeles FC’s Carlos Vela for the Major League Soccer lead in goals. Vela has 29.
“Everybody knows who he is,” a grinning Antuna said of Ibrahimovic. “He can do whatever he wants.”
So, too, apparently can Antuna. He admitted his confidence, and that of his teammates, is growing as the chase for an MLS Cup playoff berth enters its final weeks. The Galaxy are tied for third in the Western Conference with Minnesota with 48 points but have one more win (15).
“Yeah, of course,” he said when asked if his comfort level is as high as it has appeared lately. “Everybody feels good. I think we have to keep that going.”