CARSON, Calif. -- Zlatan Ibrahimovic's immediate impact on the LA Galaxy may have been glorious, with two great strikes to complete the stirring comeback from three goals down to beat new crosstown rival LAFC. He was quick, however, to warn observers not to expect such fireworks every week.
He and the Galaxy (3-3-1) have followed through on that promise, struggling in the attack amid injuries and a formation change designed to best utilize the Swedish superstar, with just one goal in the three games that have followed, two of them 2-0 home losses.
Throw out that second half against LAFC, and the Galaxy have netted just two goals in 12 halves since taking a two-goal lead into the break in the season-opening victory over Portland. It's all a work in progress, of course, more so following the offseason rebuild, but that doesn't minimize the frustration in LA's locker room when things don't work as they're supposed to. And there's an urgency to see better when the New York Red Bulls visit StubHub Center on Saturday night (10:30 pm ET | TV & streaming info).
“We need to step it up ...,” Ibrahimovic said following the Galaxy's training session Thursday. “I see every game as a final. For me, if you lose a game, you lose a final. Of course, you want to win, you do everything to win, but it's getting there. We work hard. This week we're working hard. Tomorrow's another day, then we have the game, so hopefully we can get that win on Saturday.”
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Adjusting to so vital a new piece is challenging, but that's accentuated by the switch from a 4-2-3-1 alignment to a 4-4-2 that's left LA shorthanded in midfield and struggling to click up top. Ibrahimovic and Norwegian striker Ola Kamara are both target forwards, and making their partnership productive will take some effort.
“I think we have work to do,” Kamara said. “We had three or four trainings where we actually played together and these games. Of course, you have to work a lot on it, and I think we have to find when to drop, who [among us should drop], how we work and everything. It's work to do, but it also suddenly when it's there, it's going to be there.”
Kamara and Ibrahimovic have not looked much like a tandem, but that's product of what's going on around them. The Galaxy has labored in possession and has had difficulties in connecting the attacking pieces. head coach Schmid praised Kamara following the Atlanta loss, noting that he was “doing so much dirty work for the others” and “has sacrificed his game for the team.”
“He's coming back and he's playing in midfield,” Schmid said. “He's defending for others who aren't coming back, and as a result of that, he's taking himself out of positions. ... He's sacrificing himself for the team, which is something we have to do in order to play out best, but every week right now it's a different cast of characters. It's a different offensive grouping and [there will be hiccups] until we get all of that clear and [the required] understanding.”
“I think [it's] the whole team. It's not about one or two players, it's the whole collective team. Eleven players,” he said. “You need to make adjustments for making the team work [as it should], and when the defense works, the midfield works. When the midfield works, the attacker works. It's all a puzzle together."
How that puzzle fits together remains something of a mystery. Giovani dos Santos' return last week from a hamstring injury means Schmid has his most important attacking pieces together. Now it's figuring out who goes where -- and whether Ibrahimovic and Kamara can play together.
“We're still analyzing everything,” Schmid said. “It's a situation where we want to try to get our best players on the field, and with the addition of Ibrahimovic and we already had a forward in Ola, and the strength of both of them is to play as a forward. So we're trying to see if that can work, and we're continuing to work on that.”