The MLS season is here and, surprise, Los Angeles Galaxy star Zlatan Ibrahimovic has got something to say.
Ibrahimovic’s words aren’t targeted at a rival, a friend or anything as small as a person or team. Rather, he has harsh criticism for the entire structure of the MLS itself.
While speaking with reporters, Ibrahimovic ripped into the way MLS determines its champion, via a postseason tournament where the league’s seventh-best regular season team can win it all if it gets hot enough.
A transcript of the exchange:
Ibrahimovic: When you talk about the playoff, you just need to make the playoff, win the playoff and that’s it. It doesn’t matter if you lose or win.
Reporter: Is that something you try to teach to the younger players, to have that mentality that you—
Ibrahimovic: How can you learn mentality, if you just need to reach the playoffs?
Reporter: So that’s a problem then, the format?
Ibrahimovic: I think the system is s---. That’s the way it is because you talk about mentality. For me, mentality is every day. The way you train is the way you play game. The results in every game is important. But here, you come in seventh place, you make playoffs, you win. So how do you create that mentality to be on your toes 24 hours? Is very difficult.
Well, that’s certainly a take from Ibrahimovic, whose LA Galaxy team has won the MLS Cup despite only having the eighth- and ninth-best regular-season record in the past (to be fair, they’ve also led the MLS in points and failed to win the MLS Cup twice).
However, it’s understandable that Ibrahimovic feels this way. It would be an understandable reaction from most Europeans who didn’t grow up with the way American leagues determine champions.
MLS is unlike the major soccer leagues of Europe in that it has adopted the American structure of a regular season focused on determining seeding for the playoffs, then playoff tournaments to determine the season’s champion.
That set of priorities — winning a postseason tournament above all else — stands in stark contrast to, say, English soccer, where whichever team gets the most points in the Premier League gets the trophy that matters and outside tournaments like the FA Cup are a bonus.
In the European system, teams like the 2001 Seattle Mariners, 2007 New England Patriots, 2015-16 Golden State Warriors and 2018-19 Tampa Bay Lightning would be remembered as some of the greatest teams ever. In the United States, they’re only historic disappointments.
So you can imagine the bewilderment of a European veteran like Ibrahimovic who suddenly has to win three or four games in the MLS Cup Playoffs for the season to be considered a success, rather than just be the best team in the league for most of the season.
Maybe that’s not fair, but that’s the system in the United States whether Ibrahimovic likes it or not.
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