Football Features

Zlatan Ibrahimovic: LA Galaxy star proves Ferrari class again in El Tráfico

By Chris Smith

MLS-weekly-round-up-playoffs

Published: 12:49, 23 July 2019

Week 20 in MLS produced some derby magic, end-to-end thrillers and a tonne of talking points. 

As is the league standard, goals were on tap and flashpoints never far away, while trying to predict any kind of scoreline in MLS, once again, proved almost impossible.

Want to try and make sense of the chaos?

Read on as we delve into the best of the action from MLS week 20.

MLS week 20 snapshot

New England Revolution continued their stunning turnaround under Bruce Arena in midweek with a 4-0 win over struggling Vancouver Whitecaps, following it up with a 2-0 away victory over FC Cincinnati, meaning the Revs are now unbeaten in their last 10 MLS games and have crept above the play-off line. Atlanta United were also two for two in their double gameweek, hammering Houston Dynamo 5-0 before Pity Martinez grabbed a goal and an assist from the bench in a 2-0 win over a Wayne Rooney-less DC United.

Columbus Crew have had their struggles recently but took four vital points from Chicago Fire and Montreal Impact, while shock Eastern Conference leaders Philadelphia Union kept up the pace with a 2-0 win over the Fire. It’s not been the best of weeks for Bastian Schweinsteiger and Co.

We’ll pick through the bones later, but we can’t really get through this section without mentioning an incredible El Tráfico in the early hours of Saturday morning. Zlatan did Zlatan things with a perfect hat-trick, Vela did Vela things with two goals himself and the runaway league leaders fell to a relative shock 3-2 defeat despite taking an early 1-0 lead.

NYCFC got back to winning ways with a 2-1 away triumph over 10-man Colorado Rapids, while the week was rounded off with a thrilling Cascadia Cup clash between Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers. After an unusual three-game goalless streak, Brian Fernandez bagged twice as the Timbers pulled off an impressive win away to their rivals. Fernandez now has eight goals and one assist in nine MLS games since switching from Necaxa in Liga MX.

What they said

“I have a lot of respect for Vela, he’s a good player, but you did one mistake, you compared him with me, that was your biggest mistake. I have my confidence and I believe in myself. People call it arrogant, I call it confidence. Ignorant people call it arrogant, intelligent people call it confidence.”

Zlatan Ibrahimovic on Carlos Vela comparisons

“To come to [another] stadium, especially in a big rivalry like this and to be able to score and quiet people, it’s beautiful.”

Brian Fernandez after scoring twice in the Timbers’ 2-1 win over Seattle Sounders

“He has to make my life as hard as possible. Right now, he’s doing that. The only reaction he can give me is this. I asked him to be in the box, and he was in the box when the cross came. This is what you want when you play behind the striker.”

Frank de Boer on Pity Martinez’s impact vs DC United

“The effort’s there. We’re playing collectively, which is good to see, and we’re getting better. We’re winning games on the road, too, which is very important. I can’t complain. It was a good week for us.”

Bruce Arena on New England Revolution’s recent turnaround

Zlatan proves his ‘Ferrari’ class in El Tráfico

How to solve a problem like Zlatan? You can love him, loathe him, back him or doubt him but one thing is certain: Ibrahimovic will prove you wrong.

The build-up to El Tráfico was littered with comparisons between Ibrahimovic and LAFC’s star man, Carlos Vela. Which one will win the Golden Boot? Who deserves to be the MVP at the end of the season? On the face of it, Vela is the obvious answer. The Mexican has an astounding 21 goals and eight assists in 20 MLS games so far, while his speed of thought and ethereal movement are key to everything Bob Bradley’s side do well.

Top chance creators in MLS 2019 so far

  • Diego Valeri (Portland Timbers) – 77
  • Magnus Eriksson (San Jose Earthquakes) – 67
  • Carles Gil (New England Revolution) – 63
  • Carlos Vela (LAFC) – 62
  • Alejandro Pozuelo (Toronto FC) – 61

Delve a little further, though, and Zlatan’s case is a strong one. The Swede has 16 goals and three assists in 17 games himself and those goals account for 53.33% of LA Galaxy’s 30 so far this season. 87.5% (14) of his goals have come from inside the box and sure, he doesn’t quite get involved in the build-up as much Vela, but therein lies the beauty of it all – he doesn’t have to and is likely instructed not to.

Ibrahimovic is and always has been at his best when given licence to purely concentrate on scoring goals. LA Galaxy’s main weapon this season has been putting crosses into the box. Ibrahimovic simply peels away from the centre-backs, positions himself on a smaller full-back and waits for the delivery. Once it comes, he bullies his opponent into submission and scores with consummate ease. It may seem a little primitive for MLS’ most successful side – which has boasted technicians such as David Beckham, Steven Gerrard and Landon Donovan over the years – but it works and did so to devastating effect against LAFC.

When LAFC took an early lead at Dignity Health Sports Park, few would have been surprised to see the Western Conference leaders put their LA rivals to the sword as they have so many other sides this season. Not while Zlatan is around, though. What followed was vintage Ibrahimovic at its glorious best. A ridiculous right-footed volley equalised, an imperious header at the far post put the Galaxy ahead, and a ruthless left-footed finish put the game beyond doubt. A perfect hat-trick later, Ibrahimovic had shown LAFC were, indeed, mortal and left us all wondering the same thing about the man himself.

“Here, I am like a Ferrari among Fiats,” Ibrahimovic said during the build-up to El Tráfico. While the likes of Vela and Josef Martinez – as well as youngsters like Paxton Pomykal – may beg to differ about the latter, the ex-Barcelona striker has left us in no doubt at all about the former.

MLS 2019 top goalscorers

  • Carlos Vela (LAFC) – 21
  • Josef Martinez (Atlanta United) – 16
  • Zlatan Ibrahimovic (LA Galaxy) – 16
  • Diego Rossi (LAFC) – 11
  • Wayne Rooney (DC United) – 11

Vela may be running away with the Golden Boot race right now, just as his team are ploughing their way toward the Supporters Shield with their relentless attack and rigorous press, but Zlatan is keeping pace and getting better. As long as he has his rivals within site, nothing is certain.

Every MLS result from week 20

Thursday, July 18

New England Revolution 4-0 Vancouver Whitecaps

Atlanta United 5-0 Houston Dynamo

Toronto FC 3-1 NYRB

Chicago Fire 2-2 Columbus Crew

Friday, July 19

FC Cincinnati 1-4 DC United

Portland Timbers 1-1 Orlando City

Saturday, July 20

LA Galaxy 3-2 LAFC

Sunday, July 21

Toronto FC 1-3 Houston Dynamo

Philadelphia Union 2-0 Chicago Fire

Columbus Crew 2-1 Montreal Impact

Sporting KC 0-2 FC Dallas

Colorado Rapids 1-2 NYCFC

Vancouver Whitecaps 1-3 San Jose Earthquakes

Real Salt Lake 1-1 Minnesota United

Atlanta United 2-1 DC United

FC Cincinnati 0-2 New England Revolution