CARSON, Calif. — Exactly a year ago, Major League Soccer welcomed itself to Zlatan. Or that’s how he put it anyway.
The legendary Zlatan Ibrahimovic announced his presence in Los Angeles in a way only he could. Sitting on the bench for the first “El Trafico” rivalry game vs. MLS newcomers LAFC, he saw the Galaxy fall behind by three goals. Maybe it wasn’t an ideal situation for him to make his debut, but the fans asked for him and he delivered.
He stepped on the pitch in the 71st minute and scored the best goal of the MLS season six minutes later, an absurd volley from about 40 yards out. Then in stoppage time, he headed home the winning goal. The lion was hungry and just beginning to roar.
Over the course of the year he netted his 500th career goal, once again in stunning fashion. Because what Ibra does just isn’t normal.
Take this year’s season opener, for example. Zlatan felt tightness in his left Achilles against the Chicago Fire that got worse as the game wore on. He said it was painful but adrenaline kept him going because he “knew” he would score. And that he did, nodding in the winning goal in the 80th minute.
That nagging injury forced the 37-year-old to miss the last two games before he was back on the pitch Sunday night ready to put on a show. There was speculation surrounding his status during the week but he put that to rest, playing the full 90 minutes and scoring both goals in a 2-1 win over the Portland Timbers.
The first came after a bump in the penalty area as Timbers defender Claude Dielna collided with Ibrahimovic and sent him to the ground. Zlatan slotted the penalty kick into the bottom left and stood in front of the Galaxy supporters’ section with his arms raised, probably saying "you're welcome" in his mind.
Jeremy Ebobisse later equalized for Portland after a flawless build-up of quick and precise touches that froze the Galaxy’s defense.
But then Zlatan happened, again. He received a ball in open space, turned – at one point surrounded by five green shirts – and carved his way through them before running into goalkeeper Jeff Attinella’s slide tackle.
The winning goal: a Panenka.
Happy about the win, Zlatan reflected on what could’ve been, because two goals weren’t enough. He wanted the hat trick, which nearly came late in the second half on a ball from teammate Jorgen Skjelvik.
“It was very close, I should’ve scored,” Ibrahimovic said. “I promised my son three goals. Because of a bad pass, Jorgen has to pay my son.”
His accolades and accomplishments are endless. He has played at some of the biggest clubs in the world and is Sweden’s all-time leading goalscorer.
Doesn't matter. The lion is still hungry.
“We didn’t make it to the playoffs,” Ibra said about last season. "We were fighting for fifth or sixth place. I don’t fight for those places, I fight for number one.”
The numbers back that up. Twenty-two goals and 10 assists in 27 games in his first MLS season. Three goals in just two games so far this season. His mentality is laser-focused, because that’s all he knows.
“I’m here to perform, I’m not here on vacation,” Zlatan said. “The day I don’t perform we rip the contract and I go back to Sweden or somewhere else.”
Don’t worry soccer fans, the ink is dry and the paper still intact.
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