With a flurry of early Galaxy chances, a fuse was sparked at Dignity Health Sports Park on Thursday night. Starved since April of a home victory, an eager sellout crowd was ready to celebrate.
It took 75 minutes, but Zlatan Ibrahimovic finally ignited the fireworks.
The forward scored twice, directing in a free header in the 75th minute before finishing from close range 14 minutes later. His brace lifted the Galaxy to a 2-0 win over Toronto FC, his 12th and 13th goals of the season helping the club end a three-game home losing streak.
“It was a good day today,” Ibrahimovic said. “In the second half, we stepped up, pressing higher, won the ball higher.”
Indeed, over the final 15 minutes the Galaxy reverted back to their early season form. In the spring, the Galaxy were unbeatable at home. They won their first six home games of the season and scored at least two goals in each during a surge up the standings. Entering Thursday, however, the Galaxy had scored just once in their previous three games at home — all losses — and were mired in a 3-6-0 skid.
The meeting with Toronto was the first of an important three-game home swing that will end with an El Trafico meeting with LAFC on July 19.
Ibrahimovic, with the help of two rookie teammates, made sure they started on the right foot.
Midfielder Efrain Alvarez, making his first MLS start at 17 years old, curled an in-swinging cross in Ibrahimovic’s direction midway through the second half. Unmarked, the towering 6-foot-5 forward hardly leaped as he headed the ball, nodding it over Toronto goalkeeper Quentin Westberg and into the net.
Toronto lost track of the Swedish striker again in the 89th minute, allowing him to collect 22-year-old substitute Emil Cuello’s pass in front of the goal and slip a low shot past Westberg with the outside of his right boot.
Ibrahimovic and Galaxy coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto were impressed with Alvarez, the Los Angeles native who has scored 12 goals with Galaxy II over the last two years.
“He’s the biggest talent in this league,” Ibrahimovic said. “He’s ready to play.”
Barros Schelotto added, “He always tried to get the ball and to do something.”
Toronto, which was without stars Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley, who are playing with the U.S. team in the CONCACAF Gold Cup, had the majority of possession but was toothless in attack. Outside of a pair of second-half strikes from Nick DeLeon and Alejandro Pozuelo, both of which were easily stopped by Galaxy goalkeeper David Bingham, Toronto was stymied by a series of unfinished crosses, unsuccessful runs and unthreatening half-chances.
That allowed Ibrahimovic and the rest of the L.A. attack to rediscover their dynamic home form.
“The collective performance is more important than my goals,” Ibrahimovic said. “If the collective performance is there, the goals will come.”