Zlatan Ibrahimovic provides game-winner as Real Salt Lake loses 2-1 to L.A. Galaxy

LA Galaxy's Zlatan Ibrahimovic celebrates after scoring a goal against the Vancouver Whitecaps during the second half of an MLS soccer match Friday, April 5, 2019, in Vancouver, British Columbia. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)

Real Salt Lake might look back at Sunday’s game against the L.A. Galaxy much like it did the road game against the Seattle Sounders earlier this month: solid performance, disappointing result.

Despite giving up a goal early, Salt Lake equalized and kept the scoreline as such until the final moments of the second half. That’s when the Galaxy’s lion went in for the kill.

While much of RSL’s defensive focus was on Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the Galaxy’s 6-foot-5 striker found the back of the net Sunday with a game-winner as L.A. snapped Salt Lake’s two-game winning streak with a 2-1 win at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, Calif.

With the score tied 1-1 in the 78th minute, a shot by RSL midfielder Damir Kreilach was blocked. In the ensuing transition, a ball played in the box to Ibrahimovic was kicked away by Justen Glad. But Sebastian Lletget controlled it and found Ibrahimovic, who struck and scored with his left-footed game-winner.

All of a sudden, with the flick of a foot, an impressive draw turned into another frustrating missed opportunity on the road for Salt Lake.

“There’s not much to say besides we could’ve got a result out of it and we didn’t,” RSL defender Donny Toia told KMYU after the game.

After his goal, Ibrahimovic taunted Nedum Onuoha by yelling in his ear. Earlier in the game, Ibrahimovic appeared to grab Onuoha by the neck and toss him to the ground, leading Onuoha to get in his face. The two had words for a moment and Ibrahimovic picked up a yellow card.

Ibrahimovic went into RSL’s locker room after the game to apologize to Onuoha, but the RSL defender rebuffed him, Onuoha told KMYU. Onuoha was visibly upset, and said the way Ibrahimovic acted during the game was unacceptable.

“I told him to get out,” Onuoha said.

Even when Ibrahimovic didn’t have the ball, he proved to be a threat. In the 16th minute, Diego Polenta passed between two RSL defenders — both hugged to Ibrahimovic — to Chris Pontius, and Salt Lake keeper Andrew Putna came out to defend him. But Pontius dropped it off to the onside Uriel Antuna for the shot in front of an open goal to give the Galaxy a 1-0 lead.

RSL played better in the second half, creating more chances and having more possession in the attacking third. Damir Kreilach’s shot in the 55th minute came mere inches from tying the game, but it hit the underside of the crossbar and bounced away.

Then the equalizer came from an unlikely source in Toia. The left back, who started his third straight game, found himself in the right place at the right time in the 64th minute. Aaron Herrera’s shot from inside the 18-yard box was saved by Galaxy keeper David Bingham. The rebound found the wide-open Toia as he finished the shot and tied the game at 1-1.

RSL coach Mike Petke told KMYU after the game that his team left itself a little exposed on Ibrahimovic’s goal because it was ”pushing,” but did not seem overly disappointed about the sequence. Petke also said that while Salt Lake didn’t start the first half the way it should have, he was pleased with the way it responded.

“The second half, we had them on the ropes,” Petke said. “What a response in the second half from everybody.”