Atlanta United, Galaxy stars collide

In a game featuring two international standouts — young and old — Atlanta United hopes to extend its unbeaten run to six matches when it travels to play the LA Galaxy on Saturday in Carson, Calif.

The Galaxy (3-2-1), who boast veteran Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, hope to build on their 1-0 win at the Chicago Fire last week. The game with Atlanta (4-1-1) will be just the second time the teams have faced each other and the first on the West Coast.

Atlanta United, with 19-year-old Argentine sensation Ezequiel Barco, is impressive in only its second year of existence. It beat the Galaxy 4-0 last year in Atlanta. Two weeks ago, Atlanta United routed Los Angeles FC 5-0 at home.

Barco made his MLS debut last week after returning from a quad injury. The most expensive transfer in MLS history at a reported cost of $15 million, from Argentina’s Independiente, Barco entered for midfielder Kevin Kratz in the 70th minute on the right side of the midfield.

He will likely play more against the LA Galaxy because Hector Villalba, who has been the second striker, has not practiced this week because of a strained hamstring.

“He’ll be somewhere close to the front line, on the wing or attacking midfield,” team captain Michael Parkhurst said about the uncertainty of where Barco will be positioned. “I honestly don’t know what his best position is. It provides us flexibility.

“If I don’t know where he’s going to play, for sure LA Galaxy won’t know where he’s going to play. Little surprise for them as well.”

Venezuelan forward Josef Martinez is leading Atlanta United’s attack. His five goals this season gives him 24 in only 26 MLS games. Reigning MLS Rookie of the Year Julian Gressel, who already has a goal and three assists as a wingback, is also valuable.

Miguel Almiron was also named to the MLS Team of the Week after his performance last Sunday (scoring on two penalty kicks). He has scored three goals so far and leads Atlanta in assists with four on the year.

The Galaxy are showing strides after missing the playoffs last season and finishing last in the Western Conference.

The most notable addition to date is Ibrahimovic, who has played for Barcelona, Manchester United, Juventus, AC Milan and PSG among others. He already has three goals in three games with the Galaxy.

His popularity has caught Los Angeles by storm. He has taken out a full-page ad in the Los Angeles Times in which he writes, “Dear Los Angeles, You’re welcome.” He was a guest on the Jimmy Kimmel Live show this week and also appeared on the Dan Patrick national radio show.

“I’ve had my eyes on Los Angeles and I wanted to give them my gift,” said Ibrahimovic, who said he will play with Sweden in the World Cup this summer. “I was thinking a long time and then one day it came — like, ‘I should give myself.’ That’s why I came — and you’re welcome.

“In Europe, the football is huge, is big, so wherever I went … people get crazy. People told me, ‘When you get to Los Angeles, don’t worry. You can walk on the streets out there.’ But since day one, no, it’s busy everywhere. It’s my own fault — if you play the way I do, I mean.”