When Jim Curtin was asked this week about facing Zlatan Ibrahimovic for the second time, the Union manager had a wisecrack ready.
“I’m not going to say anything stupid and get myself in trouble, and have him angry coming into the game, that’s for sure,” Curtin said.
That was probably the correct answer. Ibrahimovic, MLS’ biggest star, is on yet another attacking tear in the early weeks of this season. He has four goals and 18 shots in three games. Though he missed two weeks in March with an Achilles injury, Ibrahimovic came back with two penalty-kick goals on March 31 and a goal and an assist last Saturday.
And Curtin needs no reminding of what Ibrahimovic did when he came to Chester last year: an assist and the winning goal in a 3-1 victory over the Union, on one of the rare nights when soccer had local fans’ attention.
“We’ll have to do our best to try to limit him, but he’s going to hurt you in the course of 90 minutes at some point,” Curtin said as he prepared for Saturday’s game in Carson, Calif. (10:30 p.m., PHL17). "We recognize he’s in great form, as is the rest of their team, and they’re playing very well.”
The rest of the team is indeed in great form. Under new coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto, the Galaxy are in third place in the West (4-0-1, 12 points). Thanks to midfielders Romain Alessandrini, Joe Corona and Sebastian Lletget, and Mexican star Jonathan dos Santos, Los Angeles leads MLS in pass completion percentage (86.0%) and ranks No. 2 in chances created per game (11).
“Corona has brought in a real comfort on the ball, and Sebastian Lletget for me is one of the most underrated players in our league,” Curtin said. “We can’t be scared, because if you’re scared, going into that building with the talent and quality that they have, you’ll get embarrassed.”
On top of all that, the Galaxy have the hottest young prospect in MLS, 16-year-old Mexican-American winger Efrain Alvarez. He’s a product of the team’s academy, and the subject of a tug-of-war between the two nations for his national team allegiance.
As was the case last year, Union centerback Auston Trusty will bear the brunt of the Galaxy’s attack. The 20-year-old Media native got a lot of attention entering last year’s game.
“Being able to play against that kind of person when I was 19 at the time last year ... it’s good confidence-wise, knowing that I’ve played him before and I can play him again,” Trusty said.
The Union’s four-game unbeaten streak — they’re 3-2-1 overall (10 points) and tied for third place in the East — has also been good for confidence.
“We’ve got to just keep the right mindset we have now,” Trusty said.