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LA Galaxy Continue Winning Streak v RSL, and Zlatan Roars After Victory Goal

You may not agree with Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s tactics, but you cannot deny he is effective, especially when it comes to converting under pressure. For most of Galaxy’s home game versus Real Salt Lake on Sunday, April 28, Zlatan looked frustrated, lethargic, or maybe just bored? Throughout the match, he was consigned to laying one-touch through-balls to wingers, rarely attempting to keep the ball at his feet or take on RSL’s backline, and throwing his hands up when teammates failed to connect on the other end of his passes. And yet, somehow, you had a feeling, Zlatan is going to find a way.

Unlike their captain, the rest of the Galaxy squad appeared energized and motivated during the first half, and treated the visiting Utahns to an early onslaught of attacks. Their first goal at 16 minutes started from center back Diego Polenta driving through the middle and finding Chris Pontius on the wing (via a slick Zlatan dummy) who crossed it to Uriel Antuna for an easy knock into an open net.

Antuna, the buoyant Mexican winger so often responsible for providential happenings on the field, continued the charge, with spirited runs from outside backs Rolf Feltscher and Diedie Traore. There were goal-line clearances and a flood of white jerseys in the box. RSL keeper Andrew Putna, in for an injured Nick Rimando, fumbled nervously about, and at some point, it seemed Galaxy might trounce RSL by 3 or 4 goals. Amazingly, they went into halftime up only 1-0, due in part to Pontius and center mids Joe Corona and Sebastian Lletget unable to convert a few clutch opportunities.

Come second half, RSL began to pick up steam, maintaining the lion’s share of possession with RSL DP Albert Rusnak and right winger Jefferson Savarino creating combos and patiently moving the ball up the field. At this point, the 60-minute mark, Zlatan pulls down RSL center back Nedum Onuoha by the neck in what commentators rightly described as “malicious.” More than just a sign of frustration, this seems almost intentional on the captain’s part. Perhaps he wants to get in their heads. Disrupt the momentum. Or maybe, again, he’s just bored. The ref gives Zlatan a yellow. Zlatan and Onuoha exchange words. And a few minutes later, RSL equalizes with a goal from Danny Toia, who picks up a deflection after an attempt from Aaron Herrera.

In the locker room, Ibra fielded questions about the incident, downplaying the squabble and explaining that, “I like to feel alive. I like when it becomes duels and that, because sometimes–not that I fall asleep, but I don't feel alive if they don't actually activate me. ... When I get angry, I feel good.”

The RSL equalizer gave the visitors a boost of confidence to pull off a draw, or perhaps even a win over the home-team favorites. But that would not be so. At 78 minutes, when Polenta tries a cheeky chip to Zlatan, it’s intercepted by RSL defender Justen Glad, but quickly picked up by Lletget. Lletget bursts down the line and finds an opening to Zlatan who finishes with a simple, decisive flick. Zlatan then proceeds to roar into Onuoha’s face like the actual beast that he is.

"From 60 minutes in, he tells me he's going to do me, he's going to hurt me," Onuoha said. "This is a guy who's the face of MLS, as he calls himself. But this is the way he plays on the field? It's unacceptable.”

Post-game, Zlatan attempted to apologize to Onuoha, but the English defender was having none of it. When asked if the Swedish international gets away with more than he should, RSL head coach Mike Petke had this to say: “When you talk about soccer forwards–charismatic, talented, unbelievable players–Zlatan is top of the list. Why should it be any different for the league? The league in general is in awe of him. Do I expect referees to be any different? No.”

The match finished with a 2-1 victory for Galaxy, who are now on a 6-game winning streak at home, a feat that hasn’t been accomplished since their inaugural year in ‘96. They are now one point behind local rivals and West Coast Conference leaders LAFC.

Up Next:

LA Galaxy: Saturday, May 4 at New York Red Bulls

Photos: Wiliam Ortiz

RSL: Saturday, May 4 vs. Portland Timbers

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