Galaxy-Whitecaps FC Preview
The Vancouver Whitecaps are feeling much better about themselves after getting their first point of the season against an arch-rival team last weekend and patching the holes of a previously leaky back line.
But next is perhaps the most daunting challenge in Major League Soccer: defending Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
The Whitecaps (0-3-1) will soon find out if the improved defending that earned them a 0-0 draw against red-hot Seattle last weekend is up to the task when Ibrahimovic and the Los Angeles Galaxy (3-1-0) come to town Friday night.
The Swedish striker sensation returned from a two-game absence due to an Achilles injury last weekend and looked no worse for the wear in a 2-1 win over the visiting Timbers.
Ibrahimovic was able to play a full 90 minutes, getting off a game-high six shots and scoring twice on penalty kicks, giving him three goals in two games this season. His first penalty was shot out of a cannon, whizzing by the left post just off the ground. His second - the game winner - was a delicate panenka, gently lobbed down the middle where goalkeeper Jeff Attinella was before his dive.
The Lion is nothing if not a supremely confident showman. He nearly had a third tally but hit the post on an athletic volley attempt on a cross that was eye-level.
"It was really close (to a hat trick)," Ibrahimovic said. "I promised my son three goals, and because of a bad pass, I didn't give three goals to my son."
The Galaxy survived the two games without their star, going 1-1-0 while he rehabbed the Achilles injury, and are now 2-0-0 with Ibrahimovic as the starting No. 9.
Ibrahimovic is expected to play Friday despite the turf field at BC Place after discriminating against artificial playing surfaces last year, playing just one game on turf.
"I have no problem with turf fields and last season was special because of my knee injury," the Swede clarified.
Vancouver's back four will have their hands full trying to limit Ibrahimovic's opportunities but can take encouragement coming off a lockdown performance against undefeated Seattle.
After conceding seven goals in the season's first three games, the Whitecaps kept an impressive clean sheet against a Sounders attack that had averaged 3.33 goals per game.
Center back Doneil Henry was named to the MLS Team of the Week for his efforts in front of goal, finishing with seven clearances, three blocks and three interceptions.
"As a defender, we really look forward to getting clean sheets," Henry said after the Whitecaps' first shutout in over 11 months. "Tonight was a full team's effort in defending and in transition."
While Henry and fellow center back Erik Godoy were instrumental in breaking up scoring chances, the team also benefited from left back Ali Adnan, who made his first MLS start.
Coach Marc Dos Santos was pleased that the entire squad committed to defending, something that was lacking in Vancouver's first three games.
"Sometimes I felt that not the full team at the same time had commitment in the defensive organization," Dos Santos said. "You talk about the center backs, but I thought everyone was monster on the defensive side."
Another collective effort will likely be required to crowd Ibrahimovic and shut down shooting lanes as the Whitecaps continue to fight their way out of the Western Conference cellar.
Updated April 3, 2019