CARSON, Calif. — Two games into his Major League Soccer tenure and excitement is already building around Cristian Pavon, who played the chief role in creating both goals to help the LA Galaxy defeat FC Dallas 2-0 Wednesday night and climb to third in the Western Conference.
The Argentine wing-playmaker's through ball in the 68th minute led to Zlatan Ibrahimovic's first goal, and he won a penalty kick a dozen minutes later that the big Swede converted to complete the 2-0 triumph.
Pavon, acquired on loan from Boca Juniors just before the close of the MLS Secondary Transfer Window last week, has made a huge impression in his first two outings for the Galaxy (13-11-1), who ended five-game losing and seven-game winless streaks against Dallas (10-10-6) with their first victory in the series since 2015.
“[He was] very good,” Ibrahimovic said of his new teammate in a joyful LA locker room. “…I think MLS will not have him for a long time, but we should enjoy him while he's here.”
A defeat would have dropped the Galaxy to eighth, below the playoff line. Instead, they sit just one point behind second-place Minnesota United, even on points (but ahead on victories) with Real Salt Lake, and a point in front of the Seattle Sounders, who visit Dignity Health Sports Park on Saturday night.
“At this point of the season, [this win was] really huge,” said center back Daniel Steres, one of the keys in LA's best defensive performance in more than a month. “It's getting tight in the Western Conference, they were one of the teams that was right there with us, and to separate a little bit is big for us.”
Dallas put just one shot on frame and another, when David Bingham pushed Santiago Mosquera's 14th-minute effort onto the crossbar. The Galaxy also got strong defensive performances from Diego Polenta, who moved to center back with Giancarlo Gonzalez going to the bench, right back Rolf Feltscher, midfield general Jonathan dos Santos and Sebastian Lletget, whose quick burst to block a Michael Barrios shot in the 33rd minute kept the score level.
Even Pavon got in the defensive action, tracking back to halt a potential Dallas counterattack in the first half with a sliding tackle on Reggie Cannon in front of the Hoops' bench.
“Stuff like that is huge for us as defenders, and that kind of gets us going to protect behind them,” Steres said. “And going forward, he's been dynamic and aggressive. He's been unlucky not to get his goal, but he got an assist tonight. It will come, but he's looked good so far.”
The assist was a beauty. Favio Alvarez sent a ball from near the midfield stripe to Jorgen Skjelvik on the left flank, and the Norwegian left back played it inside for Pavon. The return pass skipped past Dallas defender Matt Hedges, and Ibrahimovic slotted Skjelvik's feed into the middle of the box.
Pavon won the penalty kick as he groped for space in a crowded Dallas box and was taken down by Cannon. Ibrahimovic's converted for his 18th goal of the campaign, completing his 11th multigoal game in MLS.
Pavon said he enjoyed his home debut, that he's “able to play my game and try to be able to be dangerous in the attack,” and spoke highly of his nascent relationship with Ibrahimovic.
“He treats me well,” Pavon said. “He gives me the confidence to be able to do a give-and-go play with him or just play my game.”
“When you have a player like that, you don't need to say much,” Ibrahimovic said. “You just communicate in the game and try to make the best out of it. He knows what he need to do. ... I play with many players, and I see when a player is the difference. He is the difference.”
“He need more time,” said head coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto, who coached Pavon at Boca Juniors. “Maybe when he can get more rest before games — because now he played three days ago and he will play [again] within three days — but during the time, he will be better for sure.”