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Soccer

Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s suspension compromises Galaxy’s scoring efforts

Real Salt Lake v Los Angeles Galaxy
Galaxy forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic in a game against Real Salt Lake on April 28. He will not play Sunday after being suspended for two games.
(Sean M. Haffey / Getty Images)

A week ago, the Galaxy got a chance to see how good they are without Jonathan dos Santos when their midfield maestro missed his first game of the season with a hamstring injury.

The answer: not very.

Dos Santos will be back in the lineup Sunday when the team welcomes the Colorado Rapids to Dignity Health Sports Park, but this time, it will be missing Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The league’s second-leading scorer, Ibrahimovic will be serving the first game of a two-match suspension levied by MLS for “violent conduct” in the Galaxy’s listless loss to New York City FC.

“He’s our No. 9. He’s our goalscorer,” midfielder Sebastian Lletget said of Ibrahimovic, who has nine goals in 10 games. “He’s an important player for us.”

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And his loss comes at an important time for the Galaxy (7-4-1), who have lost three in a row for the first time in more than an year, scoring just once in the last 227 minutes. Ibrahimovic missed two games to injury earlier this season and the Galaxy split the pair. In the six games he has sat out since joining the team last season, the Galaxy scored fewer than two goals in four of them.

Scoring may not be a problem against Colorado (0-9-2), the league’s only winless team, since the Rapids have allowed a conference-high 30 goals this season. Sunday’s visit will mark the last trip to Dignity Health Sports Park for Tim Howard, a three-time World Cup goalkeeper who holds U.S. Soccer’s career records for games (121) and wins (62). Howard is retiring at the end of season.

In Ibrahimovic’s absence, Galaxy coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto could give Argentine attacker Favio Alvarez his first MLS appearance. Alvarez was acquired on loan last week from Atletico Tucuman and his visa paperwork was completed Friday.

The MLS disciplinary committee suspended and fined Ibrahimovic without comment Friday after reviewing video of a sequence from last Sunday’s game that began with New York goalkeeper Sean Johnson bumping Ibrahimovic in the back while retreating to his net. Ibrahimovic turned to face Johnson, grabbing him by the neck with his right hand before the players wrestled one another to the turf.

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Johnson lay on the grass for several seconds clutching at his face. Both players were given yellow cards by referee Chris Penso, but Johnson was not punished any further for his part in the incident.

LAFC opponents going after Vela

Traditional approaches to defending Carlos Vela have proven ineffective this season, with the LAFC captain leading the league in both goals (13) and assists (7) entering the weekend. So now it appears some opponents are willing to try unconventional — and potentially dangerous — ones.

In the final minutes of LAFC’s win over FC Dallas on Thursday, defender Bressan slid, studs out, directly into Vela’s left ankle. A game earlier, Vela endured a rough challenge in the closing minutes of a win over Columbus. And LAFC coach Bob Bradley is tired of it.

“On the play in Columbus, after the game he said, ‘I was lucky I didn’t break my leg.’ And then today, he comes in and says the same thing,” Bradley said after the Dallas game. “You can’t have it that he comes in two weeks in a row and says ‘I’m lucky I didn’t get off the field with a broken leg.’ ”

As a result, emotions may be running a little high Sunday when LAFC (9-1-3) faces FC Dallas (5-5-2) for the second time in four days, this time in Texas.

Football is a contact sport. I don’t say anything if it’s fair play or a 50-50 ball,” Vela said. “But this case was not like that. That’s not a way to play.

“You have to be worried, not just for me but any other soccer player. We’re all in the same business, and we have to be smart.”

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Through the first 13 games of the season LAFC has been fouled 195 times, more than any other team. And Vela has drawn 33 of those, tied for fourth most.

Because of the short turnaround between games LAFC took a charter flight to Dallas. The schedule will likely force Bradley to make several lineup changes as well.

“It’s going to be one of those times where everybody needs to be ready,” defender Walker Zimmerman said. “You never know how you’re going to rotate or whether you’re going to stick with the same lineup, different subs. So you need to make sure everyone’s ready to compete.”

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kevin.baxter@latimes.com | Twitter: @kbaxter11


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