Zlatan Ibrahimović sparked a second half rally with an assist and later scored the game-winner to lead LA Galaxy to a come-from-behind win over the Philadelphia Union on a soggy night in Chester on Saturday.
The Swedish international’s first appearance in Philadelphia since joining the Galaxy from Manchester United helped the Union to their highest announced attendance figure at home since 2013, but he was also responsible for the comeback after the Union led 1-0 going into the break.
Even with the lead in the first half, through CJ Sapong’s first goal since April in the 29th minute, LA Galaxy looked the more dangerous side. The difference for the Union in the first half was that they did well enough holding onto and moving the ball and benefited from a pair of monster saves from Andre Blake to keep Zlatan and company in check.
That all changed in the second half as the Union came out of the locker room cold and surrendered the equalizer to Ola Kamara in the 48th minute off a feed from Ibrahimović. Blake was quick to come off his line, but Kamara did well to chip him and put the game on level terms.
The Union continued to struggle after surrendering the tying goal and the addition of Romain Alessandrini into the lineup as a halftime sub was part of the reason why.
Alessandrini did well to play Ibrahimović into the box with space and the Galaxy captain finished cleanly for his 12th goal of the season since joining MLS in March in the 63rd minute. Alessandrini added a second assist on a corner kick in the 82nd minute when Michael Ciani slipped Cory Burke’s poor set piece coverage and headed home the insurance goal.
Burke nearly had a chance down the other end of the field to pull the Union back into the match, but the pass from fellow second half substitute David Accam was behind him and instead of possibly dummying the pass and letting it roll to Fafa Picault he took a wild shot that missed everything.
David Bingham matched his counterpart in goal with six saves for the Galaxy, but Blake’s two first half saves and another save on a dangerous free kick from Alessandrini in the 59th minute kept the game closer than it could have been. For his part, Bingham did well to get his finger tips on a rare shot from reserve midfielder Warren Creavalle and nearly kept Sapong’s redirected effort from going into the back of the net nearly a half hour in.
“That one hurt,” head coach Jim Curtin said after the match, which was the team’s third loss in the last four league matches. “If you look at it in all the games against the teams that are towards the upper echelon, whether its Atlanta, Toronto or the Galaxy we have come up just a little bit short. Finding ways to win these type of games are what turn a good season into a great one and we have not been able to take that step.”
Sapong had a couple early chances that he wasn’t able to get past Bingham, both off assists from captain Alejandro Bedoya, but finally ended his 11-game scoring drought when Borek Dockal sent a ball in that he got enough of a touch on to redirect onto goal. Dockal’s initial attempt to serve a ball into CJ in the box was headed out by Ciani right to the Czech international who put it right back toward Sapong for his third goal of the season.
“I think it was good for him to get on the end of a cross,” Curtin said. “Good goal for him. He continues to run in hard areas and does a good job for us.”
Though it rained throughout the match, the Union still benefited from the Zlatan bump in attendance, reaching their highest paid attendance figure — 19,013 — in a home match since June 23, 2013. Zlatan also didn’t disappoint in the post-game, when asked if he has changed U.S. Soccer.
“I don’t know if I’ve changed it,” he said. “I just keep doing my job, and they are lucky I did not come 10 years ago because I would be the President.”
Saturday’s loss came after a pair of 1-0 home wins in non-MLS competition — a 1-0 win over Eintracht Frankfurt in a friendly and a win over Orlando City in the Open Cup — and a wild 4-3 win in Chicago. A concern is that the defense has conceded 12 times in the team’s last four league matches.
“I still believe in our young backline,” Curtin said. “I believe in this team. I believe that we have played some really good soccer, especially at home. I know this one hurts for us and our fans. I know there is disappointment, but at the same time like I talked about this is still a good season we have going.”
The Union hit the road to play at Houston Dynamo on Wednesday night in the first of a three-game road trip that includes trips to Portland and Foxboro.