TUKWILA – Zlatan Ibrahimovic shared an unexpected critique after his past two Los Angeles Galaxy matches: “I was tired.”
Ibrahimovic scored his team’s last four goals – bringing his season total to 22 – but blamed exhaustion for the results ending in draws for the Galaxy against Seattle and city rival LAFC.
On Sunday, the Sounders FC get to defend a rested Ibrahimovic.
The Swedish striker missed his team’s training Friday to be refreshed for the pivotal MLS Western Conference match at CenturyLink Field. The Galaxy (13-11-3) sits one point behind the Sounders (12-8-7) in a wide-open race for second in the West, which guarantees home-field advantage in the playoffs through the conference semifinals.
“He will (play),” L.A. coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto told MLS.com after training at Dignity Health Sports Park, adding Ibrahimovic is nursing minor Achilles pain. “We were talking today about how he’s feeling; he told me he needed to rest today to be OK (Saturday) and be ready for Sunday.”
Ibrahimovic and his teammates were admittedly tired against Seattle on Aug. 17 because the Galaxy had to play a man down when defender Daniel Steres was shown a red card six minutes into the match. Mental lapses resulted in Ibrahimovic missing a score at the mouth of the goal and an own goal to gift Seattle a 2-2 finish.
“We did a good job to have possession of the ball, and we created a lot of chances,” Ibrahimovic said afterward in audio provided by MLS. “We played intelligent. Even if I wouldn’t have been so tired, but that’s not an excuse. I should have gone for the kill there when I could have scored with the left foot, and I didn’t. If I score there, we have more space from the remaining time of the game.”
Seattle is also rested for Sunday, has a mostly healthy roster and a needed jolt of confidence from defeating archrival Portland to defend its claim on the Cascadia Cup. The Sounders mixed off days and pinpointed training into their eight-day stretch without a game.
Defending Ibrahimovic was a focus, but not in the sense of directly matching up against the 6-foot-5 Swede. Sounders defender Kim Kee-hee, 6-2, was unsuccessful in Los Angeles and so is most of MLS.
Plus, the Galaxy are a multipronged attack with Argentine forward Cristian Pavon seamlessly blending into the lineup since signed on loan at the close of the summer window in August. He’s started the past four matches and scored his first MLS goal in a 3-3 draw against LAFC last week.
“Deny service, that’s the biggest thing,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said of how to make Ibrahimovic ineffective. “What I keep trying to message to our team is didn’t it feel nice to go up 2-0 against our last opponent?”
The Sounders were up 2-0 against Portland in its last outing, the Timbers scoring a late goal for the 2-1 finish. And Seattle was up a goal against L.A. before Ibrahimovic’s brace and Jorgen Skjelvik’s own goal in the 82nd minute.
“You want to score your goal and then establish control, have the opponent chase the ball,” Sounders keeper Stefan Frei said. “You don’t want it to be a free for all, turn into a track meet and see who finishes their chances. I don’t think anybody really wants that except for strikers, the likes of Zlatan and (Sounders forward) Raul Ruidiaz. They probably enjoy that because that means they’re going to get free looks and defenders that are probably out of shape. … Everybody else on the field, I don’t think it’s beneficial to them.”
But if Sunday is a track meet, both sides are rested for the competitive run.
“It’s been nice to be able to focus on both fitness and our tactics,” Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan said after training at the club’s Starfire Sports facility. “We really have to take advantage of this.”