The Zlatan effect: LA Galaxy figuring out attack with Ibrahimovic

CARSON, Calif. — Zlatan Ibrahimovic has scored three of the LA Galaxy's four goals since making his Major League Soccer debut with about 20 minutes to go three weeks ago against LAFC, lifting his new club to a pair of one-goal victories and into second place in the Western Conference after just six games.

That's three times as many goals as anyone else on the roster has scored, and although the LA attack is clearly more dynamic than during last year's lost campaign, the goals have come mostly in bunches or not at all.

Is this an issue for the Galaxy, and if so, what's needed to spur a little more — and a lot better — offense?

“It's all about are we creating chances or not creating chances, and I think we're creating chances,” coach Sigi Schmid said this week as LA prepares for Saturday's StubHub Center meeting with Atlanta United and their supercharged attack. “If we're not creating chances, I would worry, but as long as we're creating chances, I'm OK.”

Ola Kamara, who netted 38 goals the past two seasons with Columbus Crew SC, hasn't tallied since netting the first goal in LA's 2-1 opening-weekend victory over Portland, and Romain Alessandrini, Jonathan Dos Santos, Sebastian Lletget and Chris Pontius have also hit the net once. The Galaxy have scored multiple goals just twice, and half of the total arrived in the 4-3 comeback victory over LAFC, with Ibrahimovic's late pair making the difference.

It's not much of an issue within the team, which has a lot of new faces, was stymied early by a rash of injuries, and continues to build working relationships, a process that's been altered by the Swedish superstar's arrival. The Galaxy have played primarily in a 4-2-3-1 formation under Schmid but switched to a 4-4-2 in last weekend's 1-0 win at Chicago as Ibrahimovic joined Kamara up top while making his first MLS start.

“The formation that we played in the last game, the group that we played together, that was the first time that group played together in that formation,” Schmid said. “It's certainly in terms of getting the automization of things — getting things to happen automatically — is going to take that little bit of time. ... It's not something that happens overnight, it's something that has a process and takes five, six, seven games.”

Alessandrini, who is still getting back up to speed after missing three games with a hamstring injury, has limited experience in the new system — Schmid says the 4-4-2 is “something that will probably stay a little bit” — and needs time to adjust.

“Attack-wise, I don't know how different [the 4-4-2 makes things],” Schmid said. “It's obviously a little bit different defensively. ... We now have to figure out exactly how to use Romain, because I don't think we used him in the best way possible in the Chicago game. It will come with time.”

Kamara says he's frustrated by his production. He scored a nice diving header that was waved off by the linesman's flag in Chicago, a call that LA believes was in error.

“I really wanted that goal, of course,” he said. “It would have been a good feeling, scoring again. ... One hundred percent for me, it's goals, and that's where all the confidence comes from. I think I could have had a couple of assists, but, of course, as a goalscorer, I want more goals. That's what I live off of.”

Ibrahimovic and Kamara are just starting to find some chemistry — the Chicago game was the first time they'd been paired together, and they'd had little chance to work together in training before this week — and once that's in place, good things are expected.

“Zlatan has been a good part of the group,” Schmid said. “He's adjusted really well that way, and on the field, the guys realize he's the type of player that you can play the ball into his feet, and generally things will connect from there. When you have a player like that, it makes everyone around you a little bit better, and he draws the attention of the opponent, and that opens up space for others.

“Everybody wants to score more goals, especially a goalscorer, but Ola's runs have been good. He's still looking to get in behind. I think with Zlatan in there, he's going to find himself rewarded a little bit more at times on those runs.”

Alessandrini says everyone needs to adapt.

“Everyone knows [Ibrahimovic] on TV, but on the field, he's totally different,” the French winger said. “We need to get used to playing with him. I think we have more weeks and more games together, we will be fine.”

Ibrahimovic says he's happy with LA's attack, with the chances that are coming, with how “the pieces are falling together,” but there's still work to be done.

“I need to adjust myself to how the team plays,” he said. “Obviously, I get to know them, they get to know me, and we work it out.”

Maybe the biggest issue facing LA is how best to utilize their attacking strength. Giovani Dos Santos, who has missed the past four and a half games with a hamstring injury, is expected to be available for Atlanta United (Saturday, 10:30 pm ET | ESPN+), but the switch to the 4-4-2 has eliminated his usual spot behind the lone striker. He'll need a couple of weeks to get back into form and game fitness, but Schmid must decide how to utilize all the midfield talent at his disposal.

Does he stick with a No. 6 and a No. 8 — Perry Kitchen and Jonathan Dos Santos — or does he look to get Giovani Dos Santos, Alessandrini and Lletget on the field together?

“Everything gets factored in [for those decisions],” Schmid said. “We've got to see who the players are, who's available, who we think complements each other. It all goes into it.”