CARSON, Calif. – Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored his 19th and 20th goals to spark the LA Galaxy to another vital victory as they chase an elusive playoff berth, but his biggest contribution might have been not finishing off a certain hat trick.
The Galaxy posted their second successive 3-0 home triumph, turning aside a Vancouver Whitecaps FC side that provided plenty of challenges, to pull within one point of sixth-place Real Salt Lake in the Western Conference, and the differences were, again, superb defensive organization, a fine performance by center backs Dave Romney and Daniel Steres, and, of course, the Swedish star's immense quality.
Ibrahimovic threaded a gorgeous pass to Romain Alessandrini to create a fourth-minute penalty kick, which he converted, scored a gorgeous second goal 13 minutes into the second half, then nailed down the three points by winning another penalty kick when Whitecaps center back Doneil Henry took him down with about 15 minutes to go.
Just 12 yards separated him from his second MLS hat trick, but Alessandrini wanted to step up to the spot.
“He came, he asked, and I give,” said Ibrahimovic, who was cheered on by hundreds of yellow-shirted fans on Swedish Heritage Night. “Like I said when I came first day, I'm not here to do a one-man show. I'm here for the team, to help them, and we need all the players we have. If Romain feels confident, of course he should take it. Absolutely.
“And I think that was more important than my hat trick. We need all the players we have, especially now, in this moment, and I need him as well as he needs me and the team needs us and we need the team. So that's the way we play. It's a collective game, and he scored. That's more important.”
Alessandrini was delighted with the gift -- he said Ibrahimovic first turned him down, then relented when Alessandrini “said please” -- and put away his 10th goal of the campaign.
“It means a lot, because I came in this team for that, to score goals and give assists,” the French winger said. “Ten goals, seven assists? Not so bad. I have to continue like that and give more for the team.”
The Galaxy have looked like a different team since Dominic Kinnear took over after Sigi Schmid's departure three weeks ago, and the defining principle is a collective approach. A change of system -- to an alignment that's a bit 4-4-2, a bit 4-5-1 and a bit 4-3-3 -- and the greater defensive organization it has helped spawn has given LA (12-11-8) real hope after a seven-game winless skid nearly knocked them out of the postseason.
They're not there yet, and they will be rooting hard for Sporting Kansas City on Sunday against RSL (5 pm ET | FS1 - Full TV & Streaming Info), the likeliest team to catch of they're going to make it to the postseason.
“I don't think we want to get too ahead of ourselves,” captain Ashley Cole said. “We've got tough games coming, and we have to win. ... If we keep playing how we've played, we'll put ourselves in a way better chance than what we have been in.”
The Whitecaps created more chances than did the Galaxy, and Ibrahimovic noted their physicality, saying that it was “the first time since I was in England in Premier League that I see many big guys like that” and that the visitors “did good, but we did it better.”
“Vancouver is a good team, but we played very well,” Alessandrini said. “We come in the field with a lot of expectation, and we show them that we play [at] home with a lot of aggression, and when you win, 1-0, after two or three minutes, the game, it's easier for us. After that we played good soccer, and we have a lot of quality in this team, and we show tonight we can get this playoff.”
LA are confident they'll make it.
“Everyone knows that we can get this playoff,” Alessandrini said. “It doesn't depend on us, because we have to follow the result of Salt Lake [on Sunday], but if we win every game until the end of the season, we're going to see what's going to happen.
“But we are confident.”