COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – The Colorado Rapids earned their third-straight win under new head coach Robin Fraser, defeating Zlatan Ibrahimović and the LA Galaxy 2-1 at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park on Wednesday night.
It marked the first visit to the Centennial State for the Galaxy’s star player, who leads the team in goals and is tied with Atlanta’s Josef Martinez for second in the league with 23. But with some defensive changes, including the shifting of centerback Lalas Abubakar to right back in replacement for Sam Vines, who was out due to illness, Colorado kept the Swede off the scoreboard.
“He’s obviously a huge guy and having a very good year, so he’s going to win his fair share,” Fraser said. “We planned for it, we want it and they were able to make the right reads at the right times and make it difficult for him on the night.”
The opening half was scoreless but not without opportunities for both sides. LA nearly took an early lead in the 20th minute, but Favio Alvarez’s chance on the doorstep was saved by Rapids goalkeeper Clint Irwin.
Five minutes later, the Rapids had a set piece opportunity and Jack Price connected with Danny Wilson, but Wilson’s header landed in the arms of Galaxy keeper David Bingham in the 25th minute.
In the 27th minute, Ibrahimović found himself one-on-one with Irwin, but a late defensive run by Abubakar helped save the danger. Irwin came up big again less than a minute later, making back-to-back saves on strikes from Alvarez and Cristian Pavon.
By halftime, Colorado had dominated shots and held nearly 57 percent possession, but the score remained deadlocked at 0-0.
Finally, that deadlock broke when Colorado homegrown Cole Bassett struck home a header off a set piece for the game’s opening goal. It gave the Rapids a 1-0 lead in the 79th minute.
Three minutes later, the Galaxy returned the favor. LA centerback Giancarlo Gonzalez equalized off a corner, leveling the match at 1-1 in the 83rd minute.
On the ensuing run of attack by Colorado, Rapids striker Andre Shinyashiki went down in the box, prompting a penalty call from head referee Fotis Bazakos. Nicolás Mezquida sank the penalty to give Colorado a 2-1 lead in the 85th minute. It was a decision many in the LA locker room disagreed with.
“From where I was, it looked like he went down pretty easy,” Galaxy defender Daniel Steres said. “I don’t know why the referee would call it and then not check VAR.”
Nonetheless, the rookie has impressed Fraser since the coach’s arrival.
“To be honest, his choices are really, really good,” Fraser said of Shinyashiki. “For a young player, young, professional, young forward, it’s all about choices.”
During extra time, LA’s other designated player, Pavon, was sent off with a straight red for violent conduct. But after video review, Pavon’s red was downgraded to a yellow card for a reckless challenge.
It was one of many controversial calls late in the match. Ten minutes into the extra time period, LA got a penalty call of their own, but that one was called back due to a VAR review as well.
Colorado saw out the extended extra time period to hold onto the win, while LA dropped points in their chase for a playoff spot. The Galaxy currently sit eighth with five matches to play, one point behind FC Dallas for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
The Rapids will now have three days to prepare for Fraser’s former team, Toronto FC, who they’ll face at 5 p.m. ET Sunday. The Galaxy will return home to host Sporting KC later that evening at 10 p.m.
“What keeps happening is they keep playing like a team,” Fraser said of the streaking Rapids. “And as a result, they’re getting it, they’re getting results.”