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By Kyle Garcia/Portland Tribune/ Center backs, goalkeeper Clark smother high-scoring Galaxy star

COURTESY PHOTO: DIEGO G. DIAZ - Zlatan Ibrahimovic (left) states his case as the Los Angeles Galaxy fall 4-0 to the Portland Timbers.Though it was a tough 4-0 loss to the Portland Timbers for the Los Angeles Galaxy, Saturday's game was still notable for international superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic's season debut at Providence Park.

The 6-5, 210-pound forward has been on a tear this season, scoring 16 goals in 18 appearances, including a hat trick and Goal of the Week in a 3-2 victory over LAFC. He has 38 goals and 13 assists in 44 MLS regular-season games.

And his 528 career goals rank third among active players, trailing only Christiano Ronaldo (707) and Lionel Messi (698).

"It's hard to have a hold-up striker, but he's the best hold-up striker probably the game's ever seen," Galaxy goalkeeper David Bingham said. "It's nice when he's out there, and he holds the ball at first and he lets us get out there and get going."

Ibrahimovic has played Portland two out of three possible times this season, sitting out their matchup on June 19 in the U.S. Open Cup Round of 16 that resulted in a 4-0 victory for the Timbers. He played in their March 31 match, however, scoring in the 33rd and 65th minutes to give the Galaxy a 2-1 victory.

It's not uncommon for stars of the pitch to avoid a turf field. For Galaxy coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto, however, it wasn't a concern on Saturday.

"This year, he was playing in Vancouver no problem; we played a few other (turf fields) no problem," Schelotto said.

But there were no goals to be found for Ibrahimovic in this one, though he had some chances. In the 40th minute, fullback Diego Polenta got the cross to Ibrahimovic only for the header to miss right of the goal. Just before that, Portland goalkeeper Steve Clark made a solid save to prevent Zlatan's shot from finding the goal.

"I didn't have any other option but to just stand him up," Clark said. "I just stood him up, and luckily he hit it into my body."

Ibrahimovic drew plenty of strong reactions from the Timbers Army whenever he touched the ball, surely a common occurence for the striker in MLS stadiums across the country. Still, the crowd of over 25,000 made their presence felt whenever he had the ball.

Ibrahimovic's frustration culminated in the 76th minute, when he earned a yellow card for dissent.

"Tonight, I think he was a little unlucky," Steres said. "Most of the game he had two guys all over him, and somehow he still gets the yellow card."

It wasn't just bad luck that prevented Ibrahimovic from scoring. The physical play of center backs Julio Cascante and Larrys Mabiala made nothing come easy for him.

"They were the stars tonight," Clark said. "I know centerbacks go unheralded, but they were fantastic.""You need to stay calm and be focused on what you want to do," Cascante said with a smile on his face. "We did it today. We don't just focus on Zlatan, but all of the team because we know how L.A. plays. We did a great job."


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