Zlatan Ibrahimovic gives Galaxy 1-0 win over Bastian Schweinsteiger and Fire
Galaxy coach Sigi Schmid made two decisions before Saturday’s game with the Chicago Fire.
The first came about a week ago, when he told forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic he would make his first MLS start in the game. The second came just moments before kickoff, after the Galaxy won the coin flip and Schmid elected to start the match with the wind at their backs.
Over the next two hours both choices would prove decisive, with Ibrahimovic rising with the wind to head home the game’s only goal in first-half stoppage time, giving the Galaxy a 1-0 victory.
“It’s just a matter of our character,” said Schmid, whose team overcame not just the Fire, but also a sub-freezing wind chill, rain and wind gusts of more than 30 mph. “We knew it was going to be a difficult game from the standpoint of the wind and the conditions.”
In the end, even Mother Nature was no match for Ibrahimovic, whose legend continues to grow after just three weeks in MLS.
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Saturday’s goal was his third in as many games — which leads the team — and his second game-winning score. Only one player in the league has more.
Ibrahimovic even took credit for the sellout crowd of 21,915, the largest in Toyota Park’s 12-year history.
“I heard they never fill the stadium,” he said. “So I should come often here.”
Just maybe not in April. Because while Ibrahimovic decided the game, the weather dictated how it was played. In the first half, with the wind in their favor, the Galaxy (3-2-1) attacked, running up leads in virtually every attacking category.
They would have had a bigger advantage on the scoreboard too, but two goals in the first nine minutes were waved off by offside calls against forward Ola Kamara.
The one score they did get came a minute into stoppage time and it also was wind-aided, with captain Ashley Cole lofting a long cross into the gusts and toward Ibrahimovic.
The Swedish superstar, who battled former Manchester United teammate Bastian Schweinsteiger all afternoon, timed his run perfectly, slicing between Schweinsteiger and defender Grant Lillard to nod the ball by goalkeeper Richard Sanchez.
However Ibrahimovic, wearing dark gloves and long sleeves beneath his white Galaxy jersey, saw two other decent first-half chances go for naught. The first came in the 25th minute when he bounded toward Jonathan dos Santos’ cross in front of a wide-open net, only to see Lillard recover in time to deflect the ball wide. Eight minutes later Ibrahimovic found himself one on one with Sanchez at the end of a breakaway, but the keeper won that battle by sticking out his left leg to knock the shot away.
When the teams shifted sides after the intermission, their fortunes shifted as well with Chicago (1-3-1) dominating play and forcing Galaxy keeper David Bingham into three tough saves in a 10-minute span midway through the second half.
“It was probably one of the hardest halves I’ve played as a pro, dealing with the elements and the wind and that kind of stuff,” said Bingham, who notched his second shutout of the season while preserving the Galaxy’s first win on the road win in 12 tries dating to last season.
“Goal kicks were literally dropping straight out of the sky,” midfielder Perry Kitchen said. “That was pretty crazy.”
By the 80th minute Ibrahimovic, whose last start came with Manchester United the day after Christmas, had had enough and motioned for Schmid to take him out.
“I said to myself the last 10 minutes will be running, will be a dirty game and better somebody else come in and do that job,” Ibrahimovic said.
His job, after all, was done.
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