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New York Red Bulls ready for the Zlatan Ibrahimovic circus

The circus is coming to town. A larger-than-usual crowd is expected at Red Bull Arena Saturday afternoon to see Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the LA Galaxy take on the New York Red Bulls.

Apr 28, 2018; Carson, CA, USA; Los Angeles Galaxy forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic (9) against New York Red Bulls midfielder Aaron Long (33) at StubHub Center. (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

HANOVER, N.J. — The circus is coming to town. A larger-than-usual crowd is expected at Red Bull Arena Saturday afternoon to see Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the LA Galaxy take on the New York Red Bulls.

It is Ibrahimovic’s first appearance in the New York area since signing with the Galaxy and Red Bulls captain Luis Robles is fine with the Swedish icon being the center of attention and the reason more fans will make their way to Harrison.

“Red Bull Arena is a great place to play. And when it is full, in my opinion, its one of the top places in the league to play,” Robles said. “If it means Zlatan has to come into town for that to be the case, I’m okay with that.”

Robles said the same was true when the Red Bulls played Arsenal in a 2014 friendly.

“It was filled to beyond capacity and the energy inside of the stadium was electric,” Robles said. “It was an away game, and it was a really fun experience.”

The Red Bulls also relish the challenge of facing Ibrahimovic, who is second in the league in the Golden Boot race with eight goals — four of which have been game winners — and can find different ways to affect the game.

“The final piece of it ends up being crosses often times, but he can hurt you in the run of play, dipping underneath,” Red Bulls coach Chris Armas said. “He understands how to operate in spaces and he’s a handful for center banks because he’ll stand offside, he’ll come underneath and one of the things you love most about him is when it’s time to come alive, he comes alive. It’s not accidental. Some of the best players in the world, this is the quality that they know when it’s transition moments, they’re efficient, and he’s dangerous.”

A year ago, though, the Red Bulls managed to keep Ibrahimovic from scoring and won 3-2 on the road. But that’s not to say he didn’t influence the game.

“We just know that we have to be aware of him at all times because he really can change the game,” Robles said. “He didn’t score last year, but he set up both goals. and you even look at the RSL game [Sunday], he had a hand in both goals. That’s really what they spend all the money for, he really makes a difference for his team. And even when the offense isn’t necessarily running through him, It ends up ending with him.”

The challenge of defending Ibrahimovic also requires “a focused, full 90 minutes,” according to Tim Parker. That is something that has been lacking for a Red Bulls team that just posted their first clean sheet of the season in a 1-0 win over struggling FC Cincinnati.

It also means the focus can’t just be on Ibrahimovic.

“Their team in general is playing better than last year, they’re getting a lot of results, their individual players are stepping up and doing some special things to get goals,” Aaron Long said. “Between Sebastian Lletget and [Ema] Boateng and Ibra, there’s so many weapons that they have and at anytime on the field one of these guys can break out so it’s one of those games where it’s going to have to be 90 minutes of clued in and focus.”

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