- Who: LA Galaxy vs NYCFC
- When: Saturday, May 11th at 4:00pm ET
- Where to Watch: Dignity Health Sports Park and live on ESPN
- Odds: LA Galaxy +105 | Draw +270 | NYCFC +230
On a pleasant Tuesday morning at their bucolic suburban New York training center, New York City FC squeezed in one final practice session before flying cross country to face LA Galaxy and its outsize striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic on Saturday afternoon.
The mood mirrored the surroundings. With NYCFC riding a string of positive results, no one seemed unduly concerned about the team’s impending clash with the 7W-2L-1D Galaxy.
Which is not to say that New York is downplaying the task ahead of them. In fact, despite facing L.A. for the first time with Ibrahimovic in the fold, New York is better acquainted with the superstar than most MLS teams.
Zlatan a familiar foe for NYCFC
“I have good memories from Barcelona, this player because I worked one year with him (and) it’s my opinion Ibra is one of the best strikers in the last 20 years.”
Both coach Dominic Torrent and fullback/wingback Anton Tinnerholm have professional experience with and against the towering L.A. striker. Torrent, who has spent most of his career as Pep Guardiola’s loyal lieutenant, worked with Ibrahimovic at Barcelona as an assistant coach. While things famously did not work out between Guardiola and Ibrahimovic at Barcelona, Torrent chose to focus on the positives Tuesday afternoon. Said Torrent:
“I have good memories from Barcelona, this player because I worked one year with him (and) it’s my opinion Ibra is one of the best strikers in the last 20 years. For me (he) is amazing. Everybody knows how important this player is in the world, not in just L.A. It is always impossible to mark this player because he has quality feet, he has the quality to attack the spaces, keep the ball and score, assist. Now repeat, I’m very happy to meet again with this player because I have good memories in Barcelona.”
Zlatan will see another familiar face when LA. line up against NYC Saturday afternoon: former Sweden teammate Anton Tinnerholm.
Tinnerholm has just nine international caps, but the New York fullback/wingback recalled on Tuesday that, “I played against him a couple of times and I played with him in the national team, so I know how good he is.”
New York’s 2018 Defender of the Year, Tinnerholm is playing some of the best soccer he has played since coming over to MLS prior to last season, and when he was first asked about facing his countryman, the 28-year-old tried to play it cool.
“I played against a couple of other Swedes in the league but to be honest, I look more forward to get three points,” Tinnerholm said, before opening up just a bit. “But of course, he is the best player ever Sweden had, so of course it’s going to be fun to play against him.”
Sands appears fit for Saturday
New York recently made a much-ballyhooed switch from a back four to a three back/five back (possession dependent) formation. That new look will be put to the test against LA and Ibra.
We will have to wait and see who will be manning those positions, but Torrent appeared optimistic that his 18-year-old mainstay James Sands will return after missing one game with an abductor muscle injury. To these untrained eyes, Sands looked to be moving well while training with the injured/recovering group on Tuesday and Torrent’s comments only reinforced that impression.
“He’s much better,” the coach said of Sands, adding, “Jimmy maybe can play against L.A. Mata (Matarita) is a doubt, and Maxie (Moralez) and Eber, I don’t know in the moment because today they have a medical test. But Jimmy has more possibilities to play.”
Whether Torrent will pit the youngster straight up on Ibra is another question. It may be worth noting that the NYCFC coach said of Sands, “he can play, you know, in the center back and he can play the double six. We have to decide in the last one.”
Is stopping Zlatan the key to stopping Galaxy’s attack?
Watching the Galaxy against the New York Red Bulls last weekend, it became apparent that while “one trick pony” might be harsh, L.A. did seem very reliant on Ibrahimovic for goals, as his nine goals in eight games played would attest.
So, High Press Soccer put the question to his old teammate Tinnerholm, “Stop Ibrahimovic, stop the Galaxy?”
“Yeah, of course, he’s the most important player for LA,” Tinnerholm began. “So we have to handle him in a good way. So that’s the most important. Like I said before, we haven’t had any (team) meetings yet.”
With three days between Tuesday’s practice session and Saturday, NYCFC will surely work on a plan to slow the Galaxy’s Swedish superstar. As Tinnerholm put it, “we’re going to look at some clips and see what we what we can do. But I think it’s up to us. If we keep the ball in the team like we did the last couple of games they’re not going to have the ball as much.”
Tinnerholms words seem logical, “they can’t create as many chances, so we feel we do what we can do the best. Then we’re gonna get a win.”