Guillermo Barros Schelotto played briefly with Diego Maradona during the legend’s final season in Argentina and has coached Zlatan Ibrahimovic this year with the Galaxy in MLS.
And he says there is one trait the two men share: Both are at their best when the games are the biggest, something Ibrahimovic proved again Sunday when his three goals rallied the Galaxy to a 7-2 win over Sporting Kansas City and back into the thick of a crowded Western Conference playoff race.
“He’s Zlatan,” Schelotto said with a shrug. “There’s a reason he gets to be Zlatan. He appears every day, every game. But especially in the moments that are very hard for his own team.”
“I’m the best that ever played in MLS,” he said. “That’s without joking.”
Sunday was certainly a good time to prove that since his team was entering the final sprint to the playoffs flat-footed, having won just one of its previous eight games to fall to eighth in the standings, leaving them needing help to reach the postseason. They got a lot of that before they even took the field at Dignity Health Sports Park, with four of the six teams they were chasing losing over the weekend.
Ibrahimovic made sure the Galaxy didn’t blow the opportunity, erasing a 1-0 deficit late in the first half, then putting the game away with two second-half scores. The hat trick gave him 26 goals for the season, two better than Carlos Ruiz’ 17-year-old franchise record, while for the Galaxy the seven scores — six of which came on seven shots in the second half — were the most in a game since June 1998.
“He brings a lot of confidence to the rest of the team,” midfielder Joe Corona said. “And today chemistry was very important.”
So is making the playoffs, something the Galaxy (14-13-3) haven’t done since 2016. Missing again this year would be particularly embarrassing for a team whose $17.7-million payroll is second highest in MLS in a season in which the playoff field has expanded to seven teams in each 12-team conference.
With four games left, the seven teams fighting for the final six spots in the West are separated by just six points.
“We have to treat every game like it’s a final,” Corona said.
The Galaxy did that Sunday, dominating the early going only to fall behind on a goal by Felipe Gutierrez midway through the first half. Gutierrez scored again with four minutes left in regulation, but by then the Galaxy had put seven of their own on the board.
Ibrahimovic tied the score in the 32nd minute, pouncing on the rebound of a saved penalty shot and drilling it into the center of the net. Corona then put the Galaxy ahead to stay just after the intermission, nodding home a chipped cross from Cristian Pavon.
Ibrahimovic doubled the advantage in the 51st minute, giving him eight multi-goal games this season, half of them coming in his last six starts. His final goal followed a pair from Sebastian Lletget — who had his first multi-goal game in MLS — and one from Uriel Antuna, a 16-minute blitz of four goals that turned what had been a tight game at halftime into a rout.
For Ibrahimovic, the performance was another in a long list of games he has put an indelible mark on.
“I’m not here for vacation. I’m here to perform and to show everybody what the game is about,” he said. “The two years I had here I’ve done good things. Amazing things and perfect things.
“I just have to keep going, keep in shape and help my team in the best way, and that is by scoring goals.”
Now Schelotto is hoping the rest of the team can keep up, just as he tried to do two decades ago with Maradona.
“We need to go game by game,” he said. “We can’t think about how many points we need.”