CARSON, Calif. -- It's been almost a month since Zlatan Ibrahimovic's gigawatt debut for the LA Galaxy, one in which he scored twice to complete an unforgettable comeback from 3-0 down to beat LAFC 4-3.
While the adrenalin rush was always going to wear off at some point, the last month has revealed just how much. Since that epic, sugar rush of a day at StubHub Center, the Galaxy have played four times, and lost three of them, all at home. LA has scored fewer goals in those four games combined (three) than it did in one half against LAFC.
Along the way, the challenges posed to both player and team have been laid bare. There is the task of Ibrahimovic and his teammates understanding each other's tendencies, which requires time. And perhaps more critically, there is the challenge of how the various pieces on the Galaxy roster fit together.
Saturday's 3-2 defeat to the New York Red Bulls was the latest iteration in this process, and while Ibrahimovic set up both of the Galaxy's goals, the end result was another home defeat.
Much of the post-game conversation centered on several controversial calls that went against the Galaxy, including an offside decision that negated an apparent goal by Ibrahimovic. But the Swede wasn't as interested in the performance of referee Allen Chapman as he was that of his own team.
"It's all about us. We need to do more, much more," said Ibrahimovic matter-of-factly. "It's unacceptable, it's not OK, to lose three home games. This is the first time I lose three games in a row, so that is not only about me; it's a team effort. We need to do much more, that's for sure. We need to wake up."
The good news is that manager Sigi Schmid appeared to have taken some steps towards forming a more cohesive attack. In previous matches, Schmid had paired Ibrahimovic with Ola Kamara in a 4-4-2 and the result was an attack that oftentimes looked disjointed. Against the Red Bulls, Schmid opted for a 4-2-3-1 that required sliding Kamara back into a left wing role, while deploying Sebastian Lletget as a two-way midfielder supporting the defensive work of holding midfielder Perry Kitchen while also augmenting the attack.
The result was more offensive fluidity than the Galaxy has shown in weeks. It certainly helped getting Giovani dos Santos back on the field, who with the World Cup looming looked plenty motivated to show well. Kamara had some bright moments too, though with regards to the new formation and his place in it, he admitted: "I don't love it."
But there were also some signs that more work needs to be done. As the first half progressed, Ibrahimovic could be seen dropping deeper and deeper into midfield in a bid to get more touches. Schmid insisted he didn't mind seeing the Swede take this approach, though it's obvious that when this happens it's a sign that all is not well with the Galaxy midfield. It's also clear where the Schmid prefers Ibrahimovic to be stationed.
"He was looking for the ball," said Schmid of Ibrahimovic. "I'd like to see him stay up, but as he gets fitter, he's willing to do more work, and he likes to play a false nine sometimes, and drop off into midfield."
Schmid pointed out that Ibrahimovic set up Kamara's second half goal by doing just that, and that dos Santos did a good job of pushing forward when Ibrahimovic dropped back. But there's a difference between moving off the front line and dropping all the way back into Perry Kitchen-land. There is a happy medium to be struck.
Ibrahimovic knows this all too well, and that there are some aspects to the Galaxy attack that can only time on the training field can sharpen. There were moments, especially in transition, when it was clear that the understanding between the likes of Ibrahimovic and his teammates isn't there yet. When a move didn't come off, Ibrahimovic could be seen gesticulating to where or how he wanted the ball played into him.
"I always say it's the small details that makes the difference," he said. "The small details that you don't see is the important details. [Whether] we play 4-4-2, 4-3-3, who plays, it doesn't matter. We need to follow the same path and the philosophy. We just need to find each other more and make it easy for each other. I don't know from last year to this year [what] the team needs, so I can't judge in that way. But today was better but it was not enough because I don't like to lose and it's not good to lose."
The frustration level hasn't hit critical yet. A bit more familiarity and a few more wins will be needed to make sure that in the months that follow, that is still the case.