(Josef Martinez photo courtesy Kelvin Kuo/USA TODAY Sports)
A marquee matchup will be missing a marquee player as the short-handed Los Angeles Galaxy try to make do without Zlatan Ibrahimovic on Saturday night at reigning MLS Cup champion Atlanta United.
The 37-year-old Ibrahimovic, who is third in MLS with 16 goals in 18 matches, must sit out this match due to a yellow card accumulation. The former Sweden international was booked in the 76th minute of the Galaxy’s 4-0 loss to the Portland Timbers on July 27, triggering a one-match ban for five yellow cards. Ibrahimovic has six on the season but an earlier one went toward a previous suspension for putting his hand on the throat of New York City FC keeper Sean Johnson.
He is one of three players unavailable for coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto as the Galaxy are also without teenage midfielder Efrain Alvarez and defender Diego Polenta. Both players were sent off in the loss to the Timbers, with Alvarez exiting in the 84th minute for drilling Portland midfielder Marvin Loria with the ball after a foul and Polenta getting sent off right before the final whistle following a confrontation with Portland’s Dairon Asprilla.
“Can’t dwell on it,” Galaxy keeper David Bingham said. “You dwell on it and go to Atlanta and they will give it to you, too. You’ve really got to put it behind you and put your head down and get to work. It’s going to be a hard road trip to Atlanta, but we’re definitely going to keep working. We’ve shown it before and we’ve got to bring it again.”
The Galaxy (12-1-9) have gone 2-2-0 without Ibrahimovic, and the offense took a notable dip in all but one of them. Los Angeles was shut out twice and held to one goal in a third contest without its superstar. The rest of his teammates have combined for only 14 goals, and six of those have come from defenders or wide backs.
Los Angeles is tied with San Jose for third in the Western Conference, ahead of the Earthquakes by virtue of having more wins – the primary tiebreaker.
Atlanta United (11-3-9) continues to linger near the top of the East, entering this weekend three points behind the front-running Philadelphia Union. The Five Stripes went into the break following a wild 4-3 loss to Los Angeles FC on July 26, coming undone in a stunning 12-minute stretch in the first half when the current Supporters’ Shield leaders scored four times.
Atlanta United rallied on a goal by Josef Martinez just before halftime and an own goal by LAFC defender Eddie Seguera just after the break, but Frank de Boer’s team failed to find an equalizer. De Boer again raised eyebrows by subbing out midfielder Pity Martinez on the hour, potentially adding to the strained tensions between the two that have played out since Martinez’s arrival from River Plate in January on an MLS-record $17 million transfer.
“Pity didn’t play that bad,” de Boer told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “He did in the second half what everyone did. He was aggressive. I wanted to make minutes for (Ezequiel) Barco. The only position was that position. We need him also for the season. He gets only fit. These kinds of games make him fitter.”
De Boer also must make at least one change to his lineup as defender and All-Star Leandro Gonzalez Pirez must sit out due to a yellow card ban.
Josef Martinez has a chance to equal the MLS record he shares with Diego Valeri by scoring a goal in his ninth consecutive match. The Venezuela international has 52 goals in 59 MLS matches since arriving in Atlanta last season.
The Five Stripes have won both their matches against the Galaxy since entering MLS, including a 2-0 victory in Los Angeles last year when Josef Martinez scored in the 22nd minute and Miguel Almiron added a late penalty.