Zlatan Ibrahimovic returned to demigod-like form for the LA Galaxy on Sunday, March 31, as they defeated visiting club Portland Timbers 2-1 at Dignity Health Sports Park.
In their fourth league game, the Galaxy once again fielded their first string, with Zlatan and fellow DP Romain Alessandrini rebounding from injury (achilles and hamstring, respectively). Zlatan was initially unsure how long he could play, but declared he needed only 20 minutes. He ended up delivering a full ninety and plenty of theatrics to boot. In the span of the night, the 37-year-old striker managed to draw two penalties, get a yellow card, throw a temper tantrum, and attempt to convert a young Timbers fan as he exited the field, giving him his jersey and advising he swap it out immediately.
None of which is a knock on Zlatan’s persona. Because that is exactly what it is—a front-facing performance for the public, and what makes the Ibra show so entertaining. The brashness, the guile, the divine displays of physical ability make the self-proclaimed “god” of L.A. a tantalizing player and personality.
At the start of the match, the Timbers had some early attempts on goal, but the first game stunner came at 10 minutes, when Zlatan delivered one of his trademark karate-kick-ballerina shots. With his back to the goal and a pair of Portland arms wrapped around his torso, the 6’5 Galaxy captain nearly scored his first point, but hit the woodwork, inducing dumbfounded gasps from match commentators.
At 33 minutes, it was an Alessandrini-Zlatan combo that led to the opening goal of the night when attacking mid Joe Corona lobbed a pass to Alessandrini, who set up Zlatan with a beautiful flick in the box. Ibra was promptly run down by Timbers center back Claude Dielna and awarded a PK, which he swiftly knocked past Portland keeper Jeff Attinella.
Later, in the second half, Zlatan would clash again with the keeper, quite literally this time after chasing down a through-ball in the box. The collision was called in Zlatan’s favor, and he finished the controversial penalty with a crowd-pleasing panenka. The two goals are truly a testament to Ibra’s experience and expertise—his knowledge of how to use his body, draw fouls, and his superior game awareness and timing are measurable game-changers for the club.
Zlatan just barely missed out on a hat trick in the last minutes of regulation time, after volleying wide an aerial cross from Jorgen Skjelvik—a pass that incited him to howl “Low! Low!” in frustration at his teammate. He also earned himself a late-game yellow with a sly heel clip designed to slow down a Timbers defender.
In between the Ibra highlights, the Timbers managed to post a point off an impressive one-touch team combo culminating in a Jeremy Ebobisse goal just before close of first half. And despite the loss, Portland had one of their best performances of the season with a strong showing from Diego Chara playing in his record 250th match for the club. On the Galaxy side, Uriel Antuna and right back Rolf Feltscher provided dynamic attacking energy and a workhorse ethic, along with fan favorite Emmanuel Boateng who subbed in late second half.
This was Ibrahimovic’s one-year anniversary of his MLS debut (during which he also scored two goals) and he has since racked up 25 goals in 29 MLS games.
LA Galaxy next play Vancouver Whitecaps FC on April 5.Portland Timbers play San Jose Earthquakes April 6.