Zlatan Ibrahimovic tried to warn us during the week. He made it clear that expecting him to work miracles like he did in his unforgettable MLS debut last week wasn't realistic. Even for a man with his immense ability, he can only summon the superhuman so many times.
Sunday wasn't one of those nights, and so the LA Galaxy were left with no magic to distract the StubHub Center crowd from an otherwise lackluster performance. Yes, the Galaxy did hit the woodwork three times, and did manage 10 shots on goal — half of which were speculative strikes from distance - but what made the game look like an ugly one for the Galaxy was the lack of attacking rhythm as well as the continued shakiness of a defense that may be what keeps this team from being a serious title contender as currently constituted.
Perhaps it was the contract in how well their opponent defended that magnified the Galaxy's defensive shortcomings. Sporting KC had the best defense in MLS last year by a wide margin and, despite a surprisingly leaky start to 2018, that defense is getting back to its stingy ways with Sunday's clean sheet extending SKC's shutout streak to 262 minutes.
The Galaxy's defense was actually better on Sunday than it was last week, and it should be noted that Sporting KC managed just four shots on goal on the night, but defensive breakdowns like the one we saw on Sporting KC's second goal — which saw Johnny Russell take on and abuse Daniel Steres and Ashley Cole — had to leave Sigi Schmid shaking his head.
There was definitely a lack of chemistry and rhythm in how the Galaxy played, which shouldn't really be that surprising for a team that has had to deal with plenty of lineup juggling early this season. Both Jonathan dos Santos and Romain Alessandrini came back after being recently sidelined by injuries and neither looked to be their usual dynamic self. Schmid thrust Alessandrini into a playmaker role in place of the still-injured Giovani dos Santos — Sebastian Lletget was left out of the starting lineup presumably to get him some rest — and it provided plenty of evidence for why Schmid should never try that again.
Alessandrini managed to complete just 13 passes in 67 minutes, offering very little threat. That shouldn't really come as a surprise though since it's been clear since last year that he works best on the right wing. He was clearly not back to 100 percent yet, but his showing on Sunday should leave Schmid praying for the older Dos Santos brother to return as soon as possible.
Jonathan dos Santos made his first appearance in almost a month and, while he did show flashes of impressive skill by nearly springing Ibrahimovic with a pin-point long pass late in the match, he also didn't have his usual range of influence and clearly tired late. That was to be expected given his recent layoff and the tough midfield he was up against.
As for Ibrahimovic, he managed to find some looks at goal in his 28 minutes and hit a pair of hard long-range shots that Sporting KC's Tim Melia dealt with well. He combined well on one passing sequence that yielded an Alessandrini shot off the post, but the lack of familiarity with his teammates was evident. As the Dos Santos brothers and Alessandrini get healthier, and Lletget gets back to full fitness, the Galaxy will then be able to build some real chemistry with their new superstar forward, but that is going to take some time.
Ibrahimovic is sure to bring large audiences to all of his MLS matches, as curious observers check in from all over the world to catch his latest exploits. That will give MLS players a chance to shine on a bigger stage, and on Sunday it was a chance for some of the league's best — Melia and Ike Opara — to impress. Melia made save after save, including a full-stretch stop to deny a Cole blast destined for goal, while Opara thwarted Ibrahimovic's best chance at a goal when he ran down the big Swede and delivered a physical challenge that kept him from a dangerous chance at goal.
Sporting KC left StubHub Center with a victory that moved the team into first place in the West and into a tie with New York City FC for the most points in MLS, doing so without the services of current MLS goal-scoring leader Felipe Gutierrez, who was rested with an injury. The impressive start to the season has helped overshadow the fact that Sporting KC still hasn't replaced striker Dom Dwyer since trading him away last year. Signing a qualify forward remains a priority for Peter Vermes' squad, but with newcomers Gutierrez and Russell playing so well, and Daniel Salloi showing real growth, the club hasn't missed a beat.
No, Sporting KC won't be signing any strikers on par with an Ibrahimovic, but the reality is the club doesn't need to. It has a championship-caliber defense, a tenacious midfield that has been bolstered considerably by the additions of Gutierrez and Russell, and a budding difference-maker in Salloi. If Vermes can find the right striker to fit into KC's pressing system, and give the team a real goal threat up top, Sporting KC will stand as favorites to win the West.
The Galaxy may still have some growing pains to endure, but they have too much attacking firepower to be ignored. They need their star-studded roster to get healthy and fully fit, and Schmid needs to figure out the best formation and lineup to get the most out of that group. Only when that happens will we see a Galaxy team capable of beating opponents consistently and maximizing Ibrahimovic's considerable talent rather than having to rely on it to save them.