When Zlatan Ibrahimovic arrived in the United States after a spell with Manchester United, the world knew about it. This was a superstar who had played at clubs like Barcelona, Inter, Juventus and AC Milan. He was a player who was expected to increase the league’s popularity.
While the Swede’s interviews do have direct references to the Major League Soccer, that isn’t the only way Zlatan has helped the league. As his current deal at LA Galaxy runs out at the end of the year, it would unfair to say that the striker hasn’t done much for the league.
His future is up in the air. But the impact that he is leaving behind is immense. He, along with Carlos Vela, has raised the standard of goalscoring.
In this season of the MLS, Zlatan has played 31 games in the league. He has scored just as many times. He has also racked up a tally of eight assists. Vela on the other hand, has scored 36 times in 33 appearances.
It is rare to see a goalscoring rivalry such as this unfold in the MLS. Zlatan himself acknowledged the competition but played down Vela’s abilities in the same interview. He told reporters (via MLSSoccer):
“Now I’m chasing someone that has more games than me. If we score we score, we’ll have to see what the end number will be. If there still is a possibility, we’ll try.”
Vela didn’t back away from chiming in to make a comment about the rivalry. The Mexican said (via ESPN):
“Comparing would show a lack of respect towards him, but if we look at the stats and forget age and whatever, I’m better than him right now, that’s the reality.”
This sense of competition has brought in more heat into the league. When LAFC and La Galaxy faced each other recently, Vela scored two goals and racked up one assist. Zlatan scored once, as LAFC picked up a 5-3 win.
While Vela has scored more, the attention that Zlatan brings with him has been immense. Not just that, but LA Galaxy has witnessed a huge amount of improvement.
In the 2017 MLS edition, the club finished at the bottom of the Western Conference. When Zlatan arrived in March 2018, he helped the club finish as high as seventh in the 2018 campaign. This season, his goals have played a role in taking the club to a fifth-place- another improvement from the previous campaign.
Since last season, his goals output has increased too. The former United man scored 22 times last season, but that tally has gone up by nine goals this time around. For a 38-year-old, that should be seen as an achievement in itself.
He was a typical MLS signing- a superstar brought in just for the sake of drawing viewers. It was seen as the last stopping point in the player’s career. Like it was for players like Kaka, Steven Gerrard and the likes. But Zlatan saw this as a chance to score even more goals. That is exactly what he did.
With rumours linking him with a move to Napoli, there could still be a big club in his locker. It will be a reflection of how Zlatan never saw MLS as an end. It was a means to an end.
That is admirable for a 38-year-old. As his time creeps closer to an end, his dominating and authoritative presence is something many will miss. That includes Vela himself.