CARSON, Calif. — For the second time in 10 months, Zlatan Ibrahimovic foiled Real Salt Lake's hopes of extending a winning streak.
The Swedish superstar scored in the 78th minute to give the LA Galaxy a 2-1 victory Sunday in front of 20,615 at the Dignity Health Sports Park.
The Galaxy (7-1-1) remained undefeated at home and drew within one point of first-place Los Angeles FC, their crosstown rival, in Major League Soccer's Western Conference. RSL (3-5-1) has now lost five of seven games.
Last June, Ibrahimovic scored twice in a five-minute span during a 3-0 win that broke RSL's three-game winning streak. This year, the visitors sought to win their third consecutive match before Ibrahimovic recorded his eighth goal of the season.
Defender Justen Glad blocked Diego Polenta's pass with a high leg kick but deflected the ball to Sebastian Lletget, who controlled it at the left boundary of the penalty area. Lletget then passed the ball to Ibrahimovic at the edge of the goal box near the left post. The Swede used his right instep to launch a diagonal shot into the upper-right corner of the net.
That goal defused a strategy that frustrated Sweden's all-time leading scorer for most of the game. Before his goal, Ibrahimovic managed just one shot — and that came in the seventh minute.
"For me, it started with denying the cross, anticipating, stepping up, breaking lines to deny the cross and force it backwards," RSL coach Mike Petke said. "If we deny service and get pressure out there, he doesn't see the ball as much. He was dropping a little deeper because he wasn't getting the stuff he usually gets. As the game went on, we did a better job of that.
"He's one of those players in the world, not just in Major League Soccer, that you can do well against him for most of the game but if you give him an inch, he's going to score nine out of 10 times, which he did."
The goal also stifled RSL's second-half rally that culminated with Donny Toia's goal in the 64th minute that forced a 1-1 tie. Galaxy goalkeeper David Bingham dived forward and used his right hand to block Aaron Herrera's shot from the right side of the penalty area. But with Bingham out of position, Toia volleyed the ball into an open net from 5 yards for his second career goal.
"It was a slow start but then for long parts of the second half, we really had them on the back foot," RSL defender Nedum Onuoha said. "They made quite a few errors."
After taking four shots in the first half, with only one on goal, RSL amassed 18 shots in the second half, six of them on target.
"You saw in the second half, as we got a bit more confidence and we got our movement a little better, that we were more on the front foot," Petke said. "The players did a phenomenal job."
Ibrahimovic's goal also culminated a verbal duel with Onuoha. Both players exchanged words in the 60th minute, with the Galaxy's star forward getting a yellow card, and continued when Ibrahimovic scored.
"From 60 minutes in, he tells me he's going to do me, he's going to hurt me," Onuoha said. "This is a guy who's the face of MLS, as he calls himself. But this is the way he plays on the field? It's unacceptable.
"When he scores, and he gets right in my face, it's hard not to react. We're trying to play a sporting game here."
After the game, Ibrahimovic visited RSL's locker room to apologize.
"I told him to get out," Onuoha said. "I'm not going to accept his apology. You don't say that on the field."
Ibrahimovic also played a role in the Galaxy's first goal in the 16th minute, though he never touched the ball.2 comments on this story
Polenta passed to Ibrahimovic, whom Glad and Onuoha marked just outside the penalty area, but the Swede never touched the ball. Instead, it rolled to an attacking Chris Pontius, who drew goalkeeper Andrew Putna away from the net. Pontius then passed to Uriel Antuna, who used his right instep to score his first goal from seven yards into an open net.
By attracting two markers, Ibrahimovic created more space.
"They tried to play the ball to him and I don't think it was a great ball," Onuoha said. "He probably did anticipate some contact and it did go through. The right winger (Pontius) and the left winger (Antuna) reacted well to that ball. I don't think he was a decoy."