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Zlatan Ibrahimovic: Too Good for MLS

July 30th, 2018 · No Comments · English Premier League, Football, soccer

Two things we have learned over the first half of the 2018 Major League Soccer season:

–Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the most exciting player in the league.

–Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the most underpaid player in the league.

Generic soccer fans probably knew about the first bit of information, and if they did not his three-goal match in a 4-3 victory over Orlando City last night reinforces his status “most exciting player.”

“Ibra” now has 15 goals in only 17 LA Galaxy matches, during which he has returned the club to its preferred status as the most prominent team in North America.

And the second note? According to numbers released in May by the MLS Players Association, Ibrahimovic is being paid “only” $1.5 million. Which places him fourth — not in the league, but on the Galaxy.

Giovani dos Santos is getting $6 million this season. His brother, Jonathan will be paid $2 million. And Romain Alessandrini is making $1.87 mil.

None of those guys offer even a half-ass imitation of what Zlatan brings to the game.

He knows he is too good for MLS but, showing extreme self-discipline, he has not yet said exactly that — though he comes close to it in this interview at the team’s training facility.

I believe the first question posed to Ibra in this media session came from old friend Scott French, one of the pioneers of soccer coverage in California.

And the question? Compare MLS to the English Premier League.

Uh-oh. This could be ugly. Anyone who has watched even a few games of each league knows that the Premier League is several orders of quality above MLS, in the global rankings.

Says Zlatan: “It’s different from Premier League, now, because Premier League is something special. The pace is different, the tactic is different, the risk you take is different and, obviously, the quality, and … it’s different. You have to get used to it, and try to make it better and work for better things.”

Scott French follows up by asking what one aspect of the Premier League game is most different than MLS.

“Pace,” the Swede says immediately. “It’s not that [MLS] is slower, it’s the way you handle it and what speed you handle it. Because everybody can pass a ball, but the question is, ‘How fast can you pass the ball? How fast do you react? How fast do you read the game?’ That is the difference between the top level and lower levels, let’s say.”

Then he throws out a bone to those players caught up in the often lethargic MLS game.

“But, then, you obviously have to look at the climate here. It’s hot. It’s not like you can run for 90 minutes crazy.”

(Granted: Players in European leagues play through the winter and take off summers, and cool air allows players to last longer while running 100 mph.

After the match at the StubHub Center, Galaxy teammate Chris Pontius said of Ibrahimovic: “He’s unguardable. You’re not supposed to be that big, that fast and that strong.”

Said Sigi Schmid, Galaxy coach: “He’s the most physically imposing player this league has ever had at forward. When Ibra posts up it’s like Shaq O’Neal: You just don’t move him. And on top of that he still has vision. And on top of that he’s driven. He’s a motivated guy.”

That makes him seem very much like the best player in the league. Someone who should be at the top of the salary structure.

It makes a person wonder how much he was making in his one-plus seasons at Manchester United. Reportedly, he got 200,000 pounds sterling (about $300,000) per week. In his first season there, 2016-17, he an excellent season, scoring 17 league goals until he went down, in April, with a serious knee injury. He came back in November and clearly was not all the way back from knee surgery. He and United agreed to part in the spring, leading to his March move to MLS.

The league is a beneficiary of his presence in it. It gives fans a chance to see what elite-level scoring skills look like. (Sadly, he will not play in the MLS All-Star game this weekend, versus Juventus; he and the Galaxy are concerned about artificial turf, in Atlanta.)

In his hat-trick last night, he sent high to bang home a header, then he got a second on a marvelously executed diving header, and the third came on a deflection that fell to him in front of goal, which he promptly buried inside the far post.

The crowd went bonkers.

Ibrahimovic cannot keep this up forever. He turns 37 in October, when the Galaxy hopes to be in the MLS playoffs. But he certainly looks like a guy with another season or three in him, and the league has to hope he sticks around to show it. (Even if it makes MLS look like the lesser league it is.)

The MLS has, for the first time since Landon Donovan’s second retirement, gained my attention — and presumably that of any other North American fans with a television.

Go back to the top and watch those three goals again. Those are of a quality rarely seen in MLS’s 23 seasons. Here’s hoping Zlatan sticks around and shows us a few more of them, to see how it’s done downtown.




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