SANDY — As long as Real Salt Lake has been in MLS, the L.A. Galaxy have enjoyed a revolving door of superstars. Whether it was David Beckham, Robbie Keane or Steven Gerrard, RSL has had plenty of opportunities to measure themselves against one of the former elites from overseas.
That will again be the case this Saturday when Real Salt Lake travels to the StubHub Center to face the Galaxy (KMYU, 8:30 p.m.).
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the latest superstar to play for the Galaxy and the most recognizable since the five years of Beckham from 2007 to 2012. In his professional career that dates back to 1999, Ibrahimovic has played for European heavyweights like Juventus, Inter Milan, Barcelona, AC Milan, Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester United.
After scoring 319 career goals in Europe, he joined the L.A. Galaxy this offseason and he’s scored five goals in 10 games.
The results have been mixed this season for Los Angeles, which sits in eighth place in the Western Conference with 17 points through 14 points.
RSL coach Mike Petke knows about the unique challenges an MLS team faces when a European superstar joins the team. When he was the coach of the New York Red Bulls, he coached France sensation Thierry Henry for two years.
“Sometimes it’s difficult for a team to adjust in the short term as soon as they get here to the personality of Ibrahimovic, the level of him, his aura, all that put together,” said Petke. “They’re a very good team and they have a superstar in him, and when it meshes it’s good, and it might take a little while.”
Assuming Ibrahimovic is in the starting lineup — he’s started only one of the past three games — RSL’s backline line will face a unique challenge against one of the elite goal scorers in the world. Petke said someone needs to stick close to him at all times, but then everyone else needs to be aware of the runs off of him which are just as dangerous. He stressed the importance of that balance.
Two weeks ago Real Salt Lake was in a similar position to the Galaxy below the playoff red line, but its circumstances changed dramatically with three wins over an eight-day stretch. The winning streak vaulted Petke’s team into third place in the West with 22 points through 14 games.
RSL earned its first road victory at Seattle to kick off the winning streak, and Petke said it’s no secret what needs to happen to duplicate that result.
“Commitment, following the game plan to a T, realizing that at times you’re going to be without the ball for large chunks, but it’s what you do when you have the ball,” said Petke. “This game is really no different in the approach, we have to be disciplined and organized and how we want to defend to start and what we’re going to do out of that transition.”1 comment on this story
Albert Rusnak was away with the Slovakian National Team during RSL’s two home victories last week, but he’s back to anchor the midfield this week.
After Saturday’s match MLS takes a two-week break that coincides with World Cup group play. RSL would love to head into the break with another win, especially with a favorable schedule coming out of the break with three of four games at home.
Two of those three games are against Kansas City and FC Dallas, teams directly ahead of RSL in the Western Conference standings.