CARSON, Calif. – Zlatan Ibrahimovic celebrated the first anniversary of his epic Major League Soccer debut with something of a repeat performance, scoring two goals, and if they weren't as awesome as the pair he netted to lead the LA Galaxy past LAFC a year ago, they were every bit as important.
The Swedish superstar went 90 minutes in his return from an Achilles tendon injury, won and put away two penalty kicks, hit a spectacular volley off the post and narrowly missed a late opportunity to bag a hat trick in the Galaxy's 2-1 triumph Sunday evening over the visiting Portland Timbers, their third win in four outings under Guillermo Barros Schelotto.
Ibrahimovic, who missed two games after complaining that his left Achilles tendon bothered him through most of LA's season opener nearly a month ago, wasn't certain until Saturday that he could feature in the match, but was happy to make it make it to the finish.
“We said as long as I can go, I go,” he said in a happy Galaxy locker room afterward. “We had communication from the sideline, and they asked me every time, 'How is it? How is it?' And I said, 'All good, all good,' and I kept going.”
Schelotto said he wasn't surprised.
“He was ready, and we were talking with him, with the physio in the run-up to the [game],” he said during his postgame news conference at Dignity Health Sports Park. “Nobody force me to put him on the field, nobody force him to go to the field, so we need to be smart, because he's coming from the injury.
“But he knows better than [everyone else] his body, and he say yesterday, 'I feel good for to play,' and it was true. He score twice, the penalties, and [was] very dangerous, like he is.”
Winger Romain Alessandrini also returned after exiting early in the opener with a hamstring injury, lasting until the 74th minute. “Ibra” was the difference, though, converting spot kicks in the 33rd and 65th minutes, the first staking LA to a 1-0 lead and the second to break a 1-1 tie. The Timbers weren't convinced of either penalty, but referee Ted Unkel didn't hesitate in pointing to the spot.
“It was clear penalties. It was clear,” Ibrahimovic said. “I was alone [on the first] and he came from back and he hit me and I went down. And the second one, I said ‘listen, I'm 37 but I'm still fast.’ So sneak [past the defenders], and it was a clear penalty.”
He went Panenka on the second, chipping it softly up the middle as Jeff Attinella dived to his left. He later said he gave his approach little thought before shooting.
“Trust me, when you shoot penalties, you should not think too much,” he said. “You should step up and just put in in the goal. Easy like that. Which [it] is not. ... I was focused, but [Attinella] took too much [getting set]. I'm used to when the penalty comes, we whistle, the guys go out [of the box], and I shoot in the goal.
“And now it takes too long, too long. And if you see me, I'm waiting with the ball. I think they were complaining [about the call]. I'll just wait, have patience.”
He might have had a hat trick, but his backward-reaching volley from a 14th-minute Rolf Feltscher cross caromed off the left post and his volley from a Jorgen Skjelvik feed in the 86th flew wide. The Galaxy directed only three shots on goal all evening.
“I should have scored [at least three],” Ibrahimovic said. “It was very close [on the last one], because I should have scored.
“I promised my son three goals, and because of a bad pass, Jorgen has to pay my son now,” the Swede added with a grin.
Skjelvik did redeem himself late, cementing the win with a huge play to stop Lucas Melano in second-half stoppage time after center backs Diego Polenta and Daniel Steres collided outside the box, leaving the Argentinian attacker an open path to the net.