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Fire surrender late lead, fall to Galaxy in season opener

Galaxy forawrd Zlatan Ibrahimovic vies the ball with Fire midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger on Saturday in Carson, Calif. Ringo H.W. Chiu/AP

CARSON, Calif. — Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored on a header in the 80th minute to rally the L.A. Galaxy past the Fire 2-1 in the teams’ season opener.

New Fire forward C.J. Sapong opened the scoring in the 49th minute, and Daniel Steres tied it in the 68th on a header off an assist by 16-year-old midfielder Efrain Alvarez, who came on in the 60th minute in his MLS debut.

The Fire had a 17-13 edge in shots. Coach Veljko Paunovic thought his team had plenty of chances but could not convert.

“We have to be sharper and understand this is a game you have to win,” he said. “We should have won before the 60th minute and didn’t have the killer instinct. This team has to learn that.”

On Sapong’s goal, Galaxy defender Diego Polenta tried to play the ball back to goalie David Bingham, but Sapong intercepted it, put a move on Bingham and scored into an empty net. The Fire acquired Sapong on Feb. 23 from the Philadelphia Union for allocation money.

“He was opportunistic there, he was ready, he was smart and he did what every striker does,” Paunovic said. “He was hidden in the skin of a sheep, and then when he found the ball there in front, he converted into a lion, which is what he is. I am very happy with his performance.”

Said Sapong: “It was a gift from the soccer gods, definitely appreciated it. This last week has been a whirlwind. But when I got on the field, I felt calm, a little bit at peace. I am very thankful for the guys for helping me out and communicating on a whole other level.”

Ibrahimovic’s goal came after Chris Pontius hit the crossbar. Ibrahimovic was in perfect position to head it past Fire goalkeeper David Oustead.

“Chris did a fantastic action. I knew he would hit the post and it would head it straight to me and I would head it. That’s feeling,” Ibrahimovic said while smiling.

Each team had five shots on goal. New Fire goalie David Ousted made a highlight-reel save in the 70th minute when he stopped an Ibrahimovic attempt off his chest on a cross.

Two other players made their first starts with the Fire: defender Marcelo and midfielder Przemyslaw Frankowski.

The Fire host Orlando City SC in their home opener at noon Saturday (ESPN+, 1200-AM) at SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview.