CARSON, Calif. — Sometimes there really is no place like home.
It’s where the Los Angeles Galaxy got back on track Wednesday. And where a budding star showcased his potential.
The Galaxy hadn’t played a league match at Dignity Health Sports Park in nearly three weeks, since Zlatan Ibrahimovic recorded a ridiculous hat trick to oust rival LAFC. A three-game road trip followed, and it was not at all kind to Guillermo Barros Schelotto’s side. They were outscored 9-1 in that stretch and headed back to Cali without a single point.
In that time, though, there was some reason to celebrate. The Galaxy finally were able to acquire Argentine winger Cristian Pavon on loan from Boca Juniors after lengthy negotiations. It was a move general manager Dennis te Kloese referred to as showcasing the club’s ambition. Team president Chris Klein called it an example of a long-term vision.
Forget the future. The time is now.
How good is Pavon?
“Very good,” Ibrahimovic said after Wednesday’s win over FC Dallas. “He’s too good for MLS. I think MLS will not have him for a long time but we should enjoy him while he’s here.”
In his Galaxy debut last Sunday, just three days after being signed, Pavon played a full 90 minutes in Washington, D.C. The result was a loss, but the team felt they deserved better.
Wednesday in front of 19,653 fans, Pavon played his first home game and once again displayed his quality. Ibrahimovic ended up with a brace, and the win moved the Galaxy back into third in the Western Conference.
But the Argentine was the mastermind behind both goals. The first was a through-ball splitting the defense and delivered perfectly to Jorgen Skjelvik, who laid it off easily to Ibrahimovic:
The latter was a masterful give-and-go between Pavon and Ibrahimovic that resulted in a penalty, which Ibra converted.
Thus began what could be a special connection, even if it might be short-lived.
“Very good combination. I think we’re going to see more and more,” said Galaxy midfielder Sebastian Lletget. “Two talented players, and I think Pavon has made a big difference, even if we lost in D.C. I think he still played a great game and you could see the qualities he’s got.”
Schelotto felt the same.
“Zlatan is starting to understand Cristian and that obviously favors us a lot,” said the skipper, who managed Pavon for three years in Argentina. “As [Pavon] gets more comfortable with his teammates and the league, and gets some needed rest, he’s going to be even better.”
What the 23-year-old already demonstrates is a South American style of creativeness that keeps the offense moving rapidly. After all, he did play alongside Lionel Messi in the 2018 World Cup, and Pavon could easily emerge as one of CONMEBOL’s most exciting players as a new qualifying cycle begins.
But he’s in MLS because a dip in form forced him to Boca’s bench and diminished his playing time. So far it’s a tiny sample size, but the signs are all positive in the United States.
“I’m adapting because truthfully it was a big change from Argentina to the United States,” said Pavon, who is admittedly playing very relaxed. “I’m trying to get comfortable and learn more every day. [Schelotto] has a lot of confidence in me and I hope to repay him every day.”
The funny thing is, Ibra and Pavon seem to be total opposites. The Argentine brings a certain level of humility while the Swede provides his usual larger-than-life swagger. As Pavon quietly got ready in his locker to face the media after Wednesday’s win, Ibrahimovic stood across the room throwing towels, making jokes and laughing. A soft-spoken voice answered questions in Spanish while the always entertaining 6-foot-5 veteran responded to his queries with a villainous smile.
Ibrahimovic delivered the line about Pavon being too good for MLS. Then he expounded upon it.
“When you have a player like that, you don’t need to say much,” Ibrahimovic said. “He knows what he needs to do. This is his second game. I think in D.C. he was the best on the field, and today he made the difference also. I’ve played with many players and I see when a player is the difference, and he is the difference.”
There seemed to be an underlying tone in Ibrahimovic’s delivery. On one hand, he suggested Pavon is a young baller thrilled to be in Los Angeles and trying excel in MLS. On the other hand, Ibrahimovic seems to be completely over the league.
Every other week he seems to be criticizing something or someone in MLS. Recently, there’s been discussion about the way refs treat Ibrahimovic compared to other players. He brushed off those incidents as a non-factor, but his visible frustration on the field doesn’t go unnoticed.
After a sloppy first half Wednesday, Ibrahimovic walked off the field chirping at teammates. Many times throughout the second half he threw his hands up in disappointment after misplayed passes into the area.
But there was Pavon, coming up clutch and waking up the lion.
If the Pavon-Ibrahimovic tandem blossoms to its potential, the Galaxy can bank on playing — and potentially hosting — games in the playoffs Ibrahimovic loathes so much. Then again, a rough stretch of losses like their recent road trip could lead to a quick downward spiral.
The spotlight is now on the coaching staff to turn the Pavon-Ibra combination into something workable, because while management has sights set on the future, the present is imperative and could easily turn into an unfortunate past.
“People know, when they lose something they will know how much they lose," Ibrahimovic said ominously when asked about his demeanor.
Pavon is one thing. Galaxy fans, enjoy Zlatan while he’s here.
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