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Lungs of Gold: Uriel Antuna stars for Galaxy in best match under Schelotto

CARSON, Calif. — No Ibra, no problem? That’s how it worked in Week 3 for the LA Galaxy, who put together their best 90 minutes of the young campaign, dominating huge swaths of play en route to a 3-2 triumph over visiting Minnesota United.

The Galaxy (2W-1L-0D) certainly missed Zlatan Ibrahimovic, out with an Achilles’ tendon injury, a whole lot in the loss at FC Dallas a week ago, but one lineup change — with Uriel Antuna and Chris Pontius swapping roles — and an emphasis on high pressure fed an often brilliant performance, especially in the first 45 minutes.

Antuna’s running up top was pivotal as LA penned in Minnesota for long stretches, and the central-midfield trio of Jonathan Dos Santos, Joe Corona and Sebastian Lletget produced the kind of soccer for which the team was celebrated during the richest times in the Bruce Arena era.

“I think we played well, but when you don’t have the players like Ibra, the team, sometimes, you can feel [it],” head coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto said afterward. “But today, I think the team without Ibra played really good. But if I have [a choice], I choose to play always with players like Ibra, of course. But I think the team played really good and we can win and play really good without him, without [injured winger] Romain Alessandrini.

“I think this a good thing for the team.”

The hope is that Ibrahimovic and Alessandrini will be back in training in the coming week and return for the Galaxy’s next game, March 31 against the Portland Timbers at Dignity Health Sports Park.

The Galaxy’s passivity hurt them in last week’s loss, in which Pontius was stationed up top, so the emphasis in training this week was to be aggressive all over the field.

“We were going to make the mistake of being overaggressive, if anything,” said Pontius, who finished a 25-pass, one-minute sequence to provide a 2-0 lead just before halftime. “We put [Minnesota United] in some tough spots that they didn’t want to play out of, we picked up some second balls in good spots, and when you do that, instead of defending on our 18 and then having to make up 90 yards to get to their goal, we were picking the ball up 40 yards from their goal, so it made it a lot easier on our legs.”

Antuna was the key. The 21-year-old Mexican winger, on loan from Manchester City, applied heavy pressure to the Loons’ backline and goalkeeper Vito Mannone, leading to turnovers in bad spots and a short field for LA’s attack. He won the penalty kick that Dos Santos put away for a 36th-minute advantage and helped to create Lletget’s 81st-minute strike, which was the difference.

Lletget said Antuna has “lungs of gold, clearly.”

“God, he was a machine for us,” Pontius said. “Even in the 90th minute, he’s going and pressuring the goalkeeper. … Just a guy that’s showing up in spots where we needed him to, running in the channels. He was unbelievable.”

The Galaxy’s movement was excellent, with and off the ball, and ball movement was quick and the off-the-ball movement was excellent. Schelotto’s plan favored flank work, and Emmanuel Boateng and outside backs Rolf Feltscher and Jorgen Skjelvik were vital to the process.

“We created a lot of problems because we were inside, we were outside,” Pontius said. “We were making them guess as to where we were going to pop.”

Schelotto noted that the Galaxy couldn’t fulfill the game plan in Dallas, and that was a starting point for the past week’s work.

“I think everyone pay attention about every training, every word I give to them, because we feel like we have to win against Minnesota,” Schelotto said. “Because it’s very important for the team [that it keeps] growing, and the result in Dallas was bad for us. … They made 100 percent every training and today. Today was really good.”

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