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Galaxy have no room for error if they hope to make playoffs

Galaxy have no room for error if they hope to make playoffs
Galaxy forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic (9) gets ready to defend a free kick during the second half of an MLS game against Toronto FC on Sept. 15 in Toronto. (Cole Burston / Associated Press)

When Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored his 500th career goal last weekend, he narrowly beat a deadline that would have been embarrassing to miss.

Ibrahimovic, whose 2011 autobiography, “I Am Zlatan,” is one of the best-selling books of all-time in his native Sweden, had just five days to submit the manuscript on another book when he scored his milestone goal in Toronto.

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“The main chapter was 500,” he said Friday. “And if I didn’t score, it would have been 499.”

Now the Galaxy striker has another goal he’s running out of time to complete and this one, too, has potentially embarrassing consequences if it’s not met: Heading into Sunday afternoon’s StubHub Center matinee with the Seattle Sounders, the Galaxy are two spots and six points out of an MLS playoff berth with five games remaining.

The team missed the postseason last year for just the fourth time in franchise history; it hasn’t missed in consecutive seasons in a decade. The path through this fall has narrowed considerably during the team’s current seven-game winless streak and would become all but impassable with anything but a win over the Sounders.

“We’re mathematically still alive. But points-wise we’re not,” interim manager Dominic Kinnear said. “We have to win the game on Sunday. I think we all know that.”

Seattle (13-10-5) holds the sixth and final Western Conference playoff spot thanks to a red-hot summer in which it picked up 32 of a possible 39 points since July 4. Seattle has also given up a league-low 29 goals in 28 games but is coming off its first loss in 10 games and will be without midfielder Harry Shipp, who didn’t travel to Southern California because of a hamstring strain.

Forward Raul Ruidiaz, who was substituted in the loss to Philadelphia last Wednesday because of a right ankle sprain, did make the trip while defender Chad Marshall’s availability could be a game-time decision. Marshall took a blow to the head during the game against Philadelphia.

The Galaxy (10-11-8) are heading the other direction, having earned just three points in their last seven games while getting outscored 23-11 over that span. They will be missing midfielders Bradford Jamieson, Gio dos Santos and Chris Pontius.

The absence of Pontius is important because the Galaxy have lost just three of the 15 games he has started and Sunday’s match is a six-point game. If the Galaxy lose, they would trail Seattle by nine points with only 12 points left to possibly acquire. But if they win, the gap shrinks to a manageable three points.

“The easiest way to catch teams,” Kinnear said, “is to beat them head-to-head.”

Ibrahimovic could have a lot to say about whether the Galaxy do that Sunday. The Sounders routed the Galaxy, 5-0, in the first meeting five weeks ago in Seattle but Ibrahimovic skipped that one rather than risk damage to his surgically repaired right knee on CenturyLink Field’s artificial surface.

Playing on grass, Ibrahimovic has a conference-best 17 goals — five of them game-winners. Just two of those goals have come in the last two months, though, which helps explain the Galaxy’s long winless run.

That’s a new feeling for Ibrahimovic, who hasn’t played for a losing team since he left his native Sweden as a teenager.

“The challenge is different,” he said. “I don’t want to talk about luck because luck is for less-good teams and less-good players.

“I want to have quality, I want to have a stable season, where you control the games more. There is where the lack has been.”

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In fact the Galaxy have lost just twice in the 13 games in which they scored first but are 4-9-1 when they concede the first goal — the last loss coming a week ago in Toronto when Ibrahimovic’s milestone goal started a rally that erased a three-goal deficit, only to see the Galaxy eventually lose 5-3.

“When you see the players that have done 500 and above, it’s not normal players,” said Ibrahimovic, who joined Barcelona’s Lionel Messi and Juventus’ Cristiano Ronaldo as the only active players with that many career goals. “When I started my career they said, ‘This player is good but he’s not able to score goals.’

“Apparently I know how to score goals because I reached 500. That is a crazy number.”

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