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Whitecaps must contain Galaxy's Ibrahimovic in quest for season's first win

VANCOUVER — The Vancouver Whitecaps know what they'll be facing if star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic takes the field on Friday. The larger-than-life Swedish forward had two goals in his return to the L.A. Galaxy's lineup last weekend.

VANCOUVER — The Vancouver Whitecaps know what they'll be facing if star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic takes the field on Friday.

The larger-than-life Swedish forward had two goals in his return to the L.A. Galaxy's lineup last weekend. Ibrahimovic had sat out the two previous games with an Achilles tendon injury.

But his potential presence in Vancouver hasn't shaken the confidence of the Whitecaps (0-3-1), who are coming off a scoreless draw with the Seattle Sounders last Saturday.

"Ibrah is Ibrah," centre back Doneil Henry said after training on Thursday. "He's a player that if you give him any time and any space, he feeds off it. He thrives off the bad mouth and all of that stuff. We try not to get into those mental games with him. We just continue to play football and keep it football related."

The squad knows they need to focus on the Galaxy (3-1-0) as a group instead of a single player.

"We know (Ibrahimovic) is a world class player, we know he's very dangerous," said right back Jake Nerwinski said. "But we're more trying to defend a whole team. We're trying to defend how they play, their tactics. We know he's an important part of that so we're going to do our best to try to stop the things that he does well. But as a whole, we're just going to try to really worry about the team."

They'll also need to be extra careful not to concede penalty kicks.

Vancouver has been unlucky when it comes to calls in the box this season and Ibrahimovic scored on two penalty kicks last weekend.

"He knows how to use his body, he knows when to go down. It's an art, really," Nerwinski said. "I think you always have to be cautious when you're making a tackle in the box. So I think that we just need to focus on being locked in at all times."

Whitecaps coach Marc Dos Santos wants his players to be strong in their zone to avoid fouls.

"The more you're concerned and obsessed by the player, you could make bad decisions," he said. "Football it's all about space, your ball and the goal."

Vancouver's strong back end was crucial to the club earning its first point of the season last weekend.

Henry and fellow centre back Eric Godoy combined for 15 clearances, five blocks and five interceptions in the effort, helping 'keeper Maxime Crepeau to his first-ever clean sheet in Major League Soccer.

"We're looking to defend as a collective instead of as individuals," Henry said.

"I think it comes down to communication and the willingness to make sure that we're perfect. We really worked hard, we watched video and we're trying to make the wrong things right. So if we continue to do that, good things will happen."

The team's also looking for ways to create more scoring opportunities and that will require patience, said midfielder Felipe Martins.

"We have explosive guys who sometimes think they can go for the run or we can go for the final pass," he said. "But sometimes we need to bring the team up the field, we need to secure the ball, we need to possess in the attacking third as well. Then we can create more chances and have more patience."

Finding more offensive opportunities will be crucial in securing Vancouver's first win of the season, Dos Santos said.

But fighting to a draw with Seattle last week and keeping a player like Sounders striker Raul Ruidiaz off the score sheet was good preparation for playing L.A.

"You can't jump from Super Mario level one to nine, right? So it's good to play level eight. It prepares you for nine or vice versa," the coach said. "To play Seattle was our biggest test this season, for sure. ...  And of course it prepares the mind set for the Galaxy."



Friday, B.C. Place

HOME FIELD ADVANTAGE?: The Galaxy have yet to beat the Whitecaps at home. In five meetings at B.C. Place dating back to April 12, 2014, Vancouver holds the edge with a 2-0-3 record.

CLEAN SHEETS GALORE: Matchups between Vancouver and L.A. have a tendency to end in a shutout. Going back to 2013, at least one side has posted a clean sheet in 11 of the past 13 meetings. Three contests have ended in scoreless draws.

BROTHERLY BATTLE: Each club has a set of brothers behind its bench. Marc Dos Santos leads the 'Caps and his younger brother Phillip works as an assistant coach. Galaxy's head coach is Guillermo Barros Schelotto and his twin brother Gustavo is an assistant with the squad.

Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press