Zlatan Ibrahimovic has used a four-letter word to describe an MLS playoff format that will allow 14 of the league’s 24 teams to advance to the postseason this fall. And for more than an hour of Wednesday’s game with FC Dallas, that epithet was looking like a good way to describe the Galaxy’s playoffs chances as well.
But then Ibrahimovic stepped up to rescue the team, if not the season, scoring both goals in a 2-0 win over FC Dallas before an announced crowd of 19,653 at Dignity Health Sports Park.
The win was the Galaxy’s first over Dallas since 2015, a span of eight games and five head coaches. More important, however, is the fact it was the team’s first win against anybody in nearly a month, snapping a three-game losing streak that had left the Galaxy’s playoff hopes in doubt.
With Real Salt Lake and Portland both winning Wednesday, a Galaxy loss would have dropped the team to eighth in the Western Conference standings. With the win, it jumps to third.
“That was huge,” midfielder Sebastian Lletget said. “We didn’t want to call it a make-or-break game.
“[But] the three points were very important to us.”
Coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto agreed.
“It’s very important. But the next game will be important too,” he said. “Every point, every game we play until Oct. 6 will be important.”
As has been the case most of the season, Ibrahimovic made the difference Wednesday, erasing a dreadful first half — he missed on a third of his passes, the worst percentage of anyone on either team — with his 17th goal of the season halfway through the second. He then tacked on a penalty-kick score in the 82nd minute to put the game away, giving him five of the Galaxy’s last six goals.
In games in which Ibrahimovic scores, the Galaxy are 10-2. When he doesn’t, they’re 3-9.
The first score was set up by newly acquired playmaker Cristian Pavon, who gave Dallas problems all night. The sequence started with Pavon bringing the ball up the left wing, deep into the Dallas end. Jorgen Skjelvik was motioning for the ball near the end line so Pavon sent it forward for the defender, who delivered a perfect cross in the center of the box for Ibrahimovic, who finished cleanly with his right foot.
The assist was Skjelvik’s first in four months while Pavon’s was his first in MLS.
The Argentine, who arrived on a free loan just 11 days ago and was playing his second MLS game in 75 hours, also set up the second goal 13 minutes later, drawing a foul from Reggie Cannon in the penalty area. Ibrahimovic had no problem slotting that one home either, giving him five penalty-kick goals in as many tries this season.
“He played well. He gets along with Ibra. But he needs more time,” Schelotto said of Pavon, whom he coached at Boca Juniors in the Argentine first division.
Although the Galaxy (13-11-1) dominated possession for most of the first half-hour, Dallas (10-10-6) came closest to scoring, with Santiago Mosquera putting a right-footed try from the edge of the six-yard box off the bottom of the cross bar in the 14th minute. Dallas came out quickly in the second half, too, with Michael Barros narrowly missing wide of the right post 30 seconds after the intermission.
Those two narrow misses would prove costly when Ibrahimovic put the Galaxy ahead to stay in the 68th minute. . But Lletget, who called the result “a very important game in crunch time” insisted nothing’s been settled yet.
“One step at a time,” he said.