The El Trafico rivals often searched for each other in the final third, though no goal-bound connection came off. Ibrahimovic was subbed out in the 30th minute for Josef Martinez, the striker whose single-season goals record (31) they're both chasing.
The Vela-Zlatan dynamic has been a been a hot topic in the press of late, and not just because they're respectively the No. 1 and No. 3 scorers on the MLS goals leaderboard. They've weighed in on the comparisons and let their play do the talking, too.
At least for one night at Orlando City's Exploria Stadium, they were on the same side.
Need a reminder of just where we stand? Glad you asked!
Zlatan downplays the MLS Golden Boot
I know there is a better Zlatan quote making the rounds but this... all of a sudden the Golden Boot race isn't important?— Tom Bogert (@tombogert) July 18, 2019
Remember, like, 3 months ago when he was chatting day and night about how he was gonna break all the records? Cool, good talkhttps://t.co/O06fyU0gcp
As many good feuds do, this all started when Ibrahimovic made comments that weren't — at least directly — targeting Vela at all.
Ahead of the first El Trafico meeting of the regular season, the towering striker was asked whether the Golden Boot was still important, given that he entered the rivalry match trailing Vela by six goals.
“That's part of my responsibilities, part of my job," Ibrahimovic said of scoring goals. "I'm trying, but a race against him? That is not important.”
Earlier in the season, of course, Ibrahimovic had openly declared his desire to target the award.
The pregame interview
Asked if he believed he'd motivated Vela by declaring he wasn't interested in the Golden Boot, he replied simply, "I hope."
Right Now? I'm better
Vela: "Comparing would show a lack of respect towards him, but if we look at the stats and forget age and whatever, I'm better than him right now, that's the reality."https://t.co/IOvsNE8MbB— beIN SPORTS USA (@beINSPORTSUSA) July 21, 2019
In interviews following the Galaxy's victory, Vela took at least a little bit of Zlatan's bait, while at the same time paying the brawny 36-year-old Swede respect for his amazing career.
"Comparing would show a lack of respect towards him, but if we look at the stats and forget age and whatever, I'm better than him right now, that's the reality," Vela told reporters.
"And in terms of the rest, he's been Zlatan and only [Lionel] Messi and Cristiano [Ronaldo] are better than him," Vela said. "The rest of us aren't in the same league."
Target? Or hitman?
Aside from the result, LAFC were furious after their El Trafico defeat because of a first-half collision between Ibrahimovic and defender Mohamed El-Munir, which resulted in a facial fracture that required surgery for the latter.
Ibrahimovic was fined by MLS but not suspended, which didn't sit well with LAFC head coach Bob Bra. However, Ibrahimovic felt the fact that there was even a fine for — in his view — a normal play without malicious intent.
“I feel like I am hunted. But when you are the best, you're hunted,” Ibrahimovic said. “The only thing I say is I hope it's not personal [that] everybody says this, because personal and professional is two different things."
Making amends, sort of
After the conclusion of Week 21, both players were asked again about their thoughts on the other as they headed to Orlando for the All-Star game. Vela appeared ready to move on.
"I don't have any problem [with Ibrahimovic]," he said. "We'll play together, we come here to have fun."
Meanwhile, Ibrahimovic just wanted to clarify that, according to him anyway, he didn't have any personal vendetta with the other star striker in Southern California.
“It was not heated, only facts," Ibrahimovic told reporters after All-Star training Tuesday. "Facts that fans were talking about and I was repeating. No offense, it was nothing, it was not personal.”