Zlatan Ibrahimovic: Golden Boot race with Carlos Vela isn't important to me

CARSON, Calif. – Before the season began, Zlatan Ibrahimovic mused about breaking the single-season goals record that Atlanta United's Josef Martinez set last year.

That's still swirling somewhere among his thoughts, but the likelier candidate to net 32 or more isn't the LA Galaxy's high-scoring striker, but rather the arch-rival's star and captain.

Carlos Vela is on target to top Martinez’s record after netting 19 in his first 19 MLS appearances this season for LAFC, who visit the Galaxy in Friday night's first El Trafico showdown of the season (10 pm ET | ESPN, TSN2). Ibrahimovic, who has 13 goals in 16 appearances – nearly half of LA's total – is OK with that.

“If the team goes good, you do good as individuals, but I'm not focusing on [the Golden Boot chase],” he said after LA's training session Wednesday at Dignity Health Sports Park. “As long as I can help my team in the best way, I will try to score the goals to help the team.

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“That's part of my responsibilities, part of my job. I'm trying, but a race against him? That is not important.”

Ibrahimovic scored 22 goals in 27 games last year for the Galaxy and tallied nine times in their first 10 games this season. He's been sporadic since as LA's attack has struggled with consistency while foes defend the Swedish superstar with extra effort. He's not always seeing the balls he wants and sometimes reacts forcefully when plays break down.

Ibrahimovic was asked Thursday what most irked him in the Galaxy's 3-1 loss last week to the San Jose Earthquakes.

“That they had 32 shots and I had none,” he replied. “Can you imagine how I feel? And I'm a striker. That was one of the parts that ... says it all. You don't need to say anymore.”

Vela, who sat out LAFC's victory last Friday at the Houston Dynamo, also shares the league lead in assists (12). Ibrahimovic likes what he sees in the Mexican attacker.

“I think he's effective. He scores goals, he does assists, and I think he's top of his game now,” Ibrahimovic said. “ … He's doing good, so he's important for his team, and for MLS, probably, he's very important.”

Teen phenom Efrain Alvarez, one of the keys to creating opportunities for Ibrahimovic, says he's long admired Vela.

“[I like] the way he attacks, the way he moves the ball, the way he creates stuff for his team,” said Alvarez, who is from East Los Angeles and plays for Mexico's U-17 national team. “I've taken a lot [from his game]. The way he moves the ball, the way he touches [the ball].”

Going up against Vela, in what would be his first game against LAFC, produces different emotions, he said.

“He's such a good player. He's one of the players that I look up,” Alvarez said. “But [Friday] is different. He's going to be on the rival team, so whatever happens during the 90 minutes, he's not a guy I look up to. He's going to be a rival.

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