There are a lot of conflicting opinions about Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s move to Major League Soccer. But no one can argue that his arrival wasn’t dramatic.
The audacious Swedish striker arrived in Los Angeles on Friday and on Saturday he scored twice in the LA Galaxy’s 4-3 come-from-way-behind victory over the expansion LAFC in the much-ballyhooed first rivalry game between the two teams.
The drama was good for Major League Soccer, brand-wise. On social media, the match led Nielsen’s sports content ratings for that day, with 1,987,000 mentions. The hashtag #Zlatan was trending worldwide for three hours after the match — and for five hours afterward in the United States.
Even David Beckham (another big star once lured to the Galaxy) weighed in on Instagram : “Just the beginning. Trust me you haven’t seen anything yet.”
It was also good for FOX, a network that had already shown a 5 percent bump in MLS viewership last season. Saturday’s match set a new ratings benchmark for a regular-season game in Nielsen’s metered markets, FOX said.
And last of all, it was good for Ibrahimovic himself, who had faced questions about his fitness — and that pesky knee injury — when he signed a two-year deal with the Galaxy. The 36-year-old announced his arrival with a goal from 40 yards out after coming in as a sub.
“I mean, my history often when I come to a new team, I score in the first game, the first official game, so I wouldn’t let it down this time,” he told the broadcasting crew after the game. “I had to score.”
The Galaxy are now 2-1-1 after finishing in last place in the MLS last season with a paltry eight league wins.
Ibrahimovic, Sweden’s all-time leading scorer, came to the Galaxy from Manchester United, where he played for two seasons. He made 53 appearances with the club, scoring 29 goals. But after injuring his right knee last April 20, he had just two starts and five substitute appearances, scoring his only goal Dec. 20 against Bristol City in the League Cup.
At his introductory news conference, Ibrahimovic proclaimed: “The lion is hungry.” And for his effort in his Galaxy debut, he was named the league’s Player of the Week.
But while his debut was beneficial for the league on many levels, it simply wasn’t good for LAFC, which saw its lead slip away at the end. Thanks to Ibrahimovic.
“Everything went well for them (in the last 15 minutes). They scored a goal and with Zlatan coming in, their morale was high. The fans got excited and everything went their way to get a win,” LAFC’s Carlos Vela said.
SCORELESS IN SEATTLE: Three games. No goals. Plenty of angst.
That’s the situation facing the Seattle Sounders, who are the only team in MLS without a point through the first month of the regular season. The latest setback came Saturday in a 1-0 home loss to Montreal , giving Seattle two home losses after they lost just once at home during the entire 2017 regular season.
Even worse, a team known for its offensive stars has yet to score a goal in its three league games.
“I don’t know if we have that many options. I can bring another young guy off the bench or we can try and keep all of our men on the field, which gives you more options,” Seattle coach Brian Schmetzer said after the loss to Montreal.
There are plenty of reasons Seattle is off to such a terrible start. The Sounders put an extra emphasis on the CONCACAF Champions League this season and staggered their lineup to have as many top players available for those games. That decision led to weaker lineups for matches against LAFC and FC Dallas, and ultimately didn’t pay off as Seattle was ousted by CD Guadalajara in the quarterfinals.
Then there are the injuries. The Sounders have yet to find a replacement for Jordan Morris, who was lost for the year to a torn knee ligament, and whose absence is looming larger than expected. Forward Will Bruin missed time, as did midfielders Nicolas Lodeiro and Victor Rodriguez and defender Kelvin Leerdam.
Finally, there have been some poor personal decisions. Leerdam and Clint Dempsey both received red cards in league matches for trivial retaliatory tactics. Both red cards came in the first half and left Seattle chasing the game, without success, for more than 45 minutes.
“Leadership within this group, I think it’s still strong. I don’t think it’s weak. I think players make mistakes, but the mistakes have to stop happening,” Schmetzer said. “If the mistakes don’t stop happening, then guys don’t stay on the field.”
Now Seattle has a week to sit around and contemplate its position before facing Sporting Kansas City on April 15. They also know they have about a month left with their full squad before some key players head off to World Cup training camps.
GAME OF THE WEEK: Because all eyes will still be on Ibrahimovic this weekend: The Galaxy host Sporting Kansas City (3-1-1) on Sunday night.
AP Sports Writer Tim Booth in Seattle contributed to this report.