CARSON, Calif. – Zlatan Ibrahimovic won’t suit up again this week, but the LA Galaxy could have a new look up front as they look to derail surprising Minnesota United FC.
Mexican winger Uriel Antuna played as the lone striker with LA’s first team in training ahead of Saturday night’s clash at Dignity Health Sports Park, as head coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto acknowledged that finding another frontrunner is something that, yes, the club need to do.
Ibrahimovic’s Achilles’ tendon injury, sustained early in the Galaxy’s victory over the Chicago Fire in their season opener two weeks ago, and Ola Kamara’s move last month to China’s Shenzhen FC have left LA (1-1-0) depleted in the attack.
There are only two other forwards listed on the roster: Chris Pontius, a natural winger who played up top in last weekend’s 2-0 defeat at FC Dallas, and 20-year-old Ethan Zubak, signed to a Homegrown contract last week after netting 11 USL goals last season for LA Galaxy II.
“We miss a really good player like [Ibrahimovic], talent and a lot of things,” Schelotto told media after Thursday’s training session. “But we need to figure out with the work and with other names, other players. We try to keep going, trying to score and do the same thing [as when Ibrahimovic is on the field].
“I know it’s impossible to try to reach the same level as Ibra, but we need to try.”
The Argentine coach, hired in January after leaving Boca Juniors, told MLSsoccer.com two weeks ago – before the club bought out Giovani dos Santos’ contract – that he was satisfied with his forwards and “we need to complete better the roster in other positions.”
Ibrahimovic’s ailment made clear just how thin LA are up top.
“Yeah, maybe we’re talking and working about the future,” Barros Schelotto said. “We know maybe we need a center forward when Ibra is not on the field. So we are working with that.”
Reports had 32-year-old Serbian forward Nikola Djurdjic, who plays with Hammarby – Galaxy owner Anschutz Entertainment Group possesses 45 percent of the Swedish club – approaching LA, but “we’re not interested” in him, a Galaxy spokesman said. A long-term solution might not be imminent.
Pontius says he sees himself as a winger, but he has experience up front with the Galaxy and D.C. United, and Barros Schelotto likes his one-on-one abilities and thinks he can score goals.
“I can play there,” Pontius said. “It’s not the most comfortable thing for me, but I certainly can play there.”
What he can’t do is approximate what Ibrahimovic offers.
“When you look at Zlatan, there’s things he does that nobody else in the world can do,” Pontius said. “I’m certainly not going to try to do those things. … I’m not Zlatan. I can’t do the things that he does.”
Barros Schelotto understands that.
“[Pontius is] a wing, but we need to figure out the problem to play without a striker. … We don’t have the striker without Ibra, without Ola. We are working to bring [in] somebody, but right now we need to figure out the problem [through either] Antuna or Chris.”
Acquired on loan from Manchester City, Antuna played up front in a preseason game against Vancouver Whitecaps FC, and the coach likes that “he’s fast” and “he becomes danger for the defense” when stationed at striker. But he’s also “very young,” and at best a stopgap measure.
Without Ibrahimovic, tactics change “a little bit,” Schelotto said, “but the idea is more important, and I think the idea is the same.”
The 37-year-old Swede is expected to return to training next week, and the “hope” is that he’ll play in the Galaxy’s March 31 home game against Portland, when winger Romain Alessandrini, who sustained a hamstring injury in the opener, is anticipated to return. Nothing is certain.
“[Ibrahimovic rejoins the group] when he knows everything is OK for [him to] play,” Schelotto said. “We don’t want to [rush him back] before the time [is right]. Maybe [if] it’s a final, you can consider it, but it’s a [regular-season game] and we need to think [long-term] about the team and him.”