Zlatan Ibrahimovic could make for a miserdale night for the Red Bulls. (Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
Sean Davis has never played against the great Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but he realizes he and his Red Bulls teammates will be in for tussle and a half Saturday night.
He has seen the Swedish standout play since his incredible debut for the LA Galaxy several weeks ago and has played against him on FIFA 18.
“He’s a beast,” Davis told reporters after training at the Red Bull Training Facility Tuesday. “He’s good on top. He’s strong. He’s physical. He can score any way he wants. Obviously, a very good player. A very respectable player. It’s going to be a fun matchup.”
Unless you have been living in a cave, you already know how Ibrahimovic made his MLS debut against the LA Football Club March 31 how he scored only minutes coming onto the field with a laser beam of a shot and how he headed home the game-winner in a wild 4-3 Galaxy comeback triumph.
It will be up to center backs Tim Parker and Aaron Long to find a way to neutralize the 36-year Ibrahimovic.
Of course, that’s much easier said than done.
“I’m excited to play against a player his caliber, to see what he already has done in this league,” Parker said “It’s going to be big for me and Aaron to keep him limited. We’ve got to frustrate them and keep them in their own half and obviously just get in their heads a little bit. We want to frustrate them and make sure they’re not having an easy day.”
The same could be said about any team trying to defend Ibra, who uses everything in his repertoire to score or create goals.
“The thing that Ibrahimovic does is he can off-balance you in a lot of ways,” head coach Jesse Marsch said. “He obviously is good aerially in the box, but he is even better at putting little combination plays together, seeing the final plays, striking balls, obviously his cleverness around the goal.
Though he has played only 217 minutes over two starts and four matches, Ibrahimovic leads the Galaxy with three goals. The rest of the team has scored five goals, total.
Marsch said that Long and Parker are “going to know him pretty well, but the question is how do you stop him on the day. It will be up to some individual moments and our ability to keep track of him.”
In its 2-0 win over the Galaxy at the StubHub Center Saturday, Atlanta United FC limited service to Ibrahimovic
“Service will be key, but … if you focus too much on stopping him in the box and the ball goes wide, he’s more dangerous in coming underneath and finding players,” Marsch said. “I thought Atlanta did really well. Their game plan and the way they limited the Galaxy in that game was quite good. They played five in the back, three [center backs] with five. It has been good for them to shut down the wings. It’s a potential for us to try the same thing.
“We are evaluating exactly what we want our game plan to be and formation and approach. We’ll make sure to be organized, we’ll make sure we keep track of him and still find ways to be explosive in the attack, so we can find a way to get some goals ourselves.”
The teams have similar records. After Saturday’s 2-1 home loss to the Chicago Fire, the Red Bulls are 3-3-0, while LA is 3-3-1.
“Going to LA is always fun,” Davis said. “With the Galaxy now that they have to compete with LAFC, it’s only raising their game. So, the stakes are only higher there and its going to be a competitive match for sure.”
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is expected to do his part to make it happen.