Martinez, Almiron lead Atlanta past Zlatan's Galaxy, 2-0
By GREG BEACHAM
CARSON, Calif. (AP) Zlatan Ibrahimovic is rounding into top shape after many months without much action, and he played the entire game for the LA Galaxy for the first time Saturday night.
The Swedish superstar still needs a bit longer with his new teammates to establish real chemistry - something Atlanta United has in abundance.
Josef Martinez scored a first-half goal, Miguel Almiron converted a penalty late in second-half stoppage time, and Atlanta kept Ibrahimovic off the scoreboard in a 2-0 victory.
Until the closing minutes, Ibrahimovic got few chances to make a difference in his fourth appearance for the Galaxy, who are 2-2-0 with a pair of 2-0 losses at home since his arrival. Zlatan scored three goals in his first three games for LA, including two game-winners.
"Wish I could do more today," Ibrahimovic said. "I pushed it. I just want to give back as much as possible. I'm trying. I will do more, I promise."
A sellout crowd of 25,846 at StubHub eagerly anticipated late-game Zlatan magic while the Galaxy surged in the second half against one of MLS' top clubs.
But Atlanta's defense held on against a second-half push led by playmaker Romain Alessandrini and Ibrahimovic, who played alongside fellow striker Ola Kamara up front. LA couldn't find the net even after the entry of Giovani Dos Santos, who came on as a 66th-minute substitute for his first game action with his new forward.
"It's not only the strikers that are the offense," Ibrahimovic said. "The whole team works together. It's like a domino effect. We go up, we go down. If you do it collectively, it's easier and more strong."
The Galaxy also didn't get much luck: Shortly after referee Baldomero Toledo declined to award a late penalty when Ibrahimovic was pushed in the box, Toledo gave a penalty when Romario Williams went down in the fourth minute of stoppage time. Almiron scored his fourth goal of the season, infuriating the Galaxy and their bench.
Brad Guzan got the shutout for Atlanta, which is 5-0-1 since getting blown out by Houston in its season opener. Atlanta coach Tata Martino was pleased with his club's collective effort against the Galaxy's potent attack.
"We tried to pressure (Ibrahimovic) far up the pitch," Martino said. "And when he got in the box, we did our best against him. I don't think he had that many chances."
Jonathan Dos Santos was a late scratch from the Galaxy's starting lineup after apparently getting hurt during warmups, and his team suffered defensively in his absence. Atlanta's formidable speed was too much for the Galaxy early on, with Martino's team dominating possession and Almiron repeatedly shredding the Galaxy defense.
Martinez missed a penalty in the first half, putting his shot off the post. Two minutes later, he jumped on the rebound of Julian Gressel's shot off the post and slotted home the sixth goal of another outstanding season for the Venezuelan forward.
Giovani Dos Santos eventually came on for his first appearance since March 11, and the Galaxy generated multiple strong chances from that point. The Mexican star had missed nearly six weeks with a hamstring injury.
Alessandrini was his usual playmaking force for the Galaxy, but the French winger struggled to find Ibrahimovic with his long crosses.
Moments after Ibrahimovic wasn't awarded a late penalty, Kamara headed a free kick over the bar.
"I think it's the collective," Ibrahimovic said. "If we get the collective organization, then the rest will work. We worked hard. We had a good week. The outcome of the week today wasn't the best. Opposite."
Updated April 22, 2018