HANOVER, N.J. — Zlatan Ibrahimovic might draw the lion’s share of the attention, and will be the major reason for an expected spike in attendance Saturday afternoon at Red Bull Arena, but there’s more to the LA Galaxy’s early-season success than the iconic Swede.
Yes, four of Ibrahimovic’s eight goals, which places him second in the Golden Boot race to LAFC’s Carlos Vela, have been game winners. But there’s plenty of praise to be shared.
A lot of it starts with the coach, and New York Red Bulls coach Chris Armas said the Galaxy are playing in the likeness of manager Guillermo Barros Schelotto, an influential midfielder who helped lead Columbus Crew SC to a 3-1 win over the Red Bulls in the 2008 MLS Cup final.
“He’s intelligent — he was an amazing player and creator,” Armas said after training Thursday. “He’s got a creative mind and on the field, you can see that the team is playing like him more and more like him: with intelligence, with tactics, with identity, with passion both ways, with and without the ball.”
The Galaxy, who have won six games in a seven-match unbeaten streak, also have a new-look midfield with Joe Corona having arrived from Club Tijuana and Jonathan dos Santos and Sebastian Lletget feeling more comfortable in their roles this season.
“They’ve been fun to watch, they love possession, they love the ball, they’ve got ideas, Dos Santos is magical deep in the midfield, sets the tone for everything they do,” Armas said. “They space you, they spread the field and they’re pretty clear what they do. It’ll be a fun challenge for us.”
It’s more than skill from the midfielders and Ibrahimovic up top. They’re as dangerous with their minds as they are with their feet.
“They have intelligent players all around,” Armas said. “It’s Corona, it’s Lletget, Ibrahimovic, you can’t give him any room in and around the goal, they attack with the outside backs and width. It’s not a one-man job. There’s a reason why they’re doing well. They’re very talented around the field. There’s a lot of intelligence to what they do and then the player qualities match what they’re trying to do.”
While keying on Ibrahimovic will be of the utmost importance, so too will be winning the battle of the midfield.
“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,” defender Aaron Long said. “Between Sebastian Lletget and [Ema] Boateng and Ibra, there’s so many weapons that they have at any time 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.”
As for defending Ibrahimovic, it’s not one player’s responsibility.
“It’s going to take the entire group and knowing where he’s at, but then because of the challenges that he creates, you can’t just focus on him because they have other good pieces that have been playing really well,” goalkeeper Luis Robles said. “It’s going to take awareness defensively from all the way in the back to me, the No. 6 in the middle, and if we play the game that we want and put it on our terms and we defend like a group, it puts us in a great situation to get three points against a very good team.”