Let’s get real: For as strong as Los Angeles Galaxy have been this season — and they are undefeated at home and on a three-match winning streak overall since falling to FC Dallas — the only enemy that matters here is Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
The slender Swede has four of his team’s nine goals and a helper on another, meaning he has been involved in over half of LA’s goals this year. Those four goals? They have come on five shots on goal. So when Big Z puts the ball on frame it goes in. That’s great, but it’s also quite unsustainable long-term.
If anybody was going to claim they are above the world of statistics, though, it’s Zlatan. He is a planet around which mere mortals orbit, his skills pulling others to him like gravity while his ego keeps them just far enough away that he never stays in one place for too long.
Knowing Ibra is unlikely to put down roots in LA, the Galaxy have surrounded him with a far more suitable cast of supporting actors than were available a year ago. Gio Dos Santos is gone, Ola Kamara is yesterday’s news, and Ashley Cole has moved on, all perfectly good players but not the best fit when your attack is all about finding one man as many times as possible.
Now Joe Corona, Sebastian Lletget, and Uriel Antuna have joined on and provide all the ball retention and individual skill required to keep possession in tight areas and draw players in so Zlatan can find enough space to do whatever it is he wants to do on a given day.
Romain Alessandrini survived offseason rumors of a trade to Montreal and continues to be an underrated attacking piece off the wing.
And in back: Nobody with a reputation for bombing forward. That push is unnecessary when you have such deep talent up top. The Galaxy only secured their first shutout of the season last weekend, but they had to survive a first minute penalty to do it. The underlying shot and Expected Goals numbers suggest the LA defense is slightly better than it is given credit for, and they will not give up a ton of space for Philly’s speedy attackers to exploit.
In the end, everybody knows what this match will turn on: Just like in Philly a year ago, the Union need to contain Zlatan. They only did it for 45 minutes in 2018, but this is a new season and a new opportunity.
Philly faces Ibra and the Galaxy at 10:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, April 13 on PHL17.