The Galaxy struggled Friday to find a positive spin on the two-game suspension the league handed down to Zlatan Ibrahimovic, their captain and the league’s second-leading scorer, for “violent conduct” in last Saturday’s loss to New York City FC.
“We know that Zlatan is a very important player for us,” defender Giancarlo Gonzalez said in Spanish. “But we are more than only Zlatan. We have good players and good people and we have teammates that are working hard and waiting for an opportunity and if this is the case on Sunday, they will have the chance, the opportunity.”
The MLS disciplinary committee levied the suspension and a fine without comment after reviewing video of a sequence from last Saturday’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.
Johnson lay on the grass for several seconds clutching at his face. After the game, Johnson angrily confronted Ibrahimovic and the two had to be separated by teammates.
Johnson was not punished for his part in the incident.
Last week Ibrahimovic was fined but not suspended for embellishment in the team’s loss at Columbus. He had earlier escaped punishment for a bizarre incident in which he entered the visitors’ locker room at Dignity Health Sports Park uninvited after an April win over Real Salt Lake, ostensibly to apologize to defender Nedum Onuoha, who had been the target of Ibrahimovic’s trash talk.
Onuoha refused the apology and Ibrahimovic was led out of the locker room by Galaxy officials.
“Never in all my games has an opponent walked into the dressing room five minutes after a game has finished,” Onuoha later told a Salt Lake City radio station. Onuoha said Ibrahimovic taunted him by repeating, “I’m going to do you, just you wait.”
Friday’s suspension is the third in MLS for Ibrahimovic and the second for on-field conduct. Last May, he was given a red card for slapping Montreal’s Michael Petrasso on the side of the head. The league also forced Ibrahimovic to sit out a game last season after he skipped the MLS All-Star game.
Ibrahimovic was banned repeatedly during his career in Europe. In 2011, while playing for Milan, he received a three-game suspension for punching an opponent in the stomach. He received another three-game suspension a year later for slapping an opponent.
The next season, while playing in France, Ibrahimovic was suspended two games for kicking an opposing goalkeeper in the chest, and three months later he got another ban for stomping on an opponent.
The Galaxy go into Sunday’s game having lost three in a row, the team’s worst slide in more than a year, and having scored just once in the last 227 minutes. Now they need to rediscover their offense without their most potent weapon.
“He’s our No. 9, he’s our goal scorer,” midfielder Sebastian Lletget said of Ibrahimovic. “Other guys, including myself, have to step up and fill that role.”