HERRIMAN — It was the defining moment of the 2018 season in revealing the camaraderie within Real Salt Lake’s locker room.
Minutes after scoring a hat trick against the L.A. Galaxy at Rio Tinto Stadium — the first RSL hat trick in four years — Damir Kreilach declined to speak at the postgame press conference. He instead thought it appropriate for defenders Justen Glad and Nick Besler to speak about keeping Galaxy striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic stuck on 499 career goals in the 6-2 win.
Coach Mike Petke praised Kreilach’s unselfishness.
“What impresses me more (than the goals) is that someone like Damir scores a hat trick tonight and then when he’s asked to come into a press conference (he sent) Justen and Nick,” said Petke. “It helps me and it helps the locker room and that’s the type of player I want playing for me. It has nothing to do with him, and he’s proven that since the first moment he’s been here.”
As much as anything, Kreilach’s gesture speaks to how difficult it is for defenders to stop Ibrahimovic.
In 27 games last season Ibrahimovic scored 22 goals, and this season he’s scored seven goals in six matches.
Real Salt Lake’s backline will get another chance to test itself against one of elite strikers in MLS this Sunday when it travels to the L.A. Galaxy (6 p.m., KMYU).
“There’s no secret to Zlatan. He’s a special player; he’s a world-class player. You can prepare for someone like him for a month straight down to every details and there’s a good chance he’s still going to get that goal or make that major play because he’s a phenomenal special player,” Petke said.
RSL experienced that Zlatan magic in the first meeting against the Galaxy last summer.
After center backs Glad and Marcelo Silva helped hold him check through the first hour, Ibrahimovic scored in the 61st and 67th minute to spearhead an L.A. 3-0 win.
He capitalized on a Nick Rimando mistake on the first goal and then bullied Glad on the second goal.
Glad’s redemption three months later on Kreilach’s hat trick night was a big reason Kreilach wanted to reward the defenders.
Glad will hope for a similar defensive effort this weekend.
“My big takeaway is we always have to know where he is because he likes to float back post and then obviously he’s big and he can jump. We’ve got to communicate and hopefully have two people on him on those balls so we can help battle and help out,” said Glad.
Nedum Onuoha figures to start alongside Glad at center back on Sunday, and with his physicality he’ll get the assignment of marking Ibrahimovic on set pieces.Comment on this story
RSL spent a lot of time in preparation for FC Cincinnati last week defending set pieces, and it paid off in keeping a clean sheet despite 13 corner kicks for Cincinnati. Even better marking on set pieces will be required on Sunday.
Midfielder Albert Rusnak said it’s important, however, not to focus exclusively on Ibrahimovic.
“He’s strong in the box and around the area, he’s got a shot that we’ll have to watch out. But like any other player he will need the service, he will need the other players around to feed him the ball, so it won’t just be about stopping him it will be about stopping the whole team,” said Rusnak.