Zlatan Ibrahimovic screams at Nedum Onuoha - LA Galaxy vs. Real Salt Lake
Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Real Salt Lake center back Nedum Onuoha downplays again facing Zlatan Ibrahimovic

SANDY, Utah – Real Salt Lake center back Nedum Onuoha was ready for the question. 

What will it be like going against Zlatan Ibrahimovic on Wednesday night (9:30 pm ET | TV & streaming info) in an important home match? And not just for the implications on the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs race out West.

“It’s not (Zlatan and I),” Onuoha said. “See, that’s the thing of it. You can make it about certain players, but it’s always about the teams.” 

The veteran’s remarks are definitely true, but the matchup also rekindles an earlier controversy that arose in the Galaxy’s 2-1 home win on April 28. That’s when Ibrahimovic and Onuoha clashed several times at Dignity Health Sports Park, ending with the Englishman refusing an apology from the Swedish striker afterwards in the locker room. Debates started around MLS about where the line should be drawn with trash talk, especially if Ibrahimovic had gone too far in trying to bait the defender.

But Onuoha’s point of reference heading into the midweek clash isn’t that April clash. Rather, it’s a Sept. 1, 2018 matchup that saw Ibrahimovic on the cusp of his 500th career goal, only to be held scoreless in a 6-2 result at Rio Tinto Stadium. They were three huge points that helped keep the Galaxy out of the playoffs and vault RSL in.

“Last season, when we played them here, we had a really, really good result,” Onuoha said. “They’ll probably want to rectify that, but ... we’re at home and with two home games left in the season, you want to maximize everything you can.”

RSL interim head coach Freddy Juarez is not worried if there’s another in-your-face moment between Ibrahimovic and Onuoha.

“I know Nedum’s a true pro. He knows how to manage those situations,” Juarez said. “We’ll get on with it. We don’t want to get caught into that stuff and have the officials give LA any kind of energy. We’ll handle it collectively.”

RSL will be looking to build off a 0-0 draw over the weekend at the New England Revolution, while the Galaxy have won back-to-back games. They’ve added two playmakers since the clubs last met in April, so focusing just on Ibrahimovic won’t cut it. Cristian Pavon provides even more attacking prowess on the wing, in addition to Uriel Antuna and the gradual return of Romain Alessandrini

In other words, more will required to come away with three points on Wednesday.

“Every forward has his tendencies, every front line has their tendencies,” Juarez said. “He’s not just about scoring, he’s happy assisting. You throw three guys on him and all of a sudden there’s an extra player open. We feel we have the formula to contain them and get the game leaning in our favor."


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