A year ago Sunday, Zlatan Ibrahimovic stepped on a Major League Soccer field for the first time as a member of the LA Galaxy.
After 19 electric minutes in El Trafico, Ibrahimovic became an MLS legend by scoring a pair of jaw-dropping goals and leading the Galaxy to a 4-3 victory over their brand-new crosstown rival, Los Angeles FC.
In his next 26 games, Ibrahimovic found the back of the net 20 more times and assisted on 10 goals to become one of the most prolific attackers of the 2018 season.
While plenty of other high-profile signings have had huge on-field impacts for their respective clubs, few players since David Beckham have had the reach of Ibrahimovic.
Ibrahimovic is an all-around star and he has a personality that exceeds the big numbers he puts up, which is why he’s been such a terrific marketing star for MLS the last year.
The 37-year-old Swedish superstar returned to training this week ahead of the Galaxy’s clash with the Portland Timbers, which comes exactly one year after he made his historic debut in MLS.
We all know how much Ibrahimovic loves the spotlight, and with the Galaxy playing the 2018 MLS Cup runner-up at home, all focus will be on the Western Conference showdown.
There’s a full 12-game slate in Week 5, including the first taste of Friday Night Soccer this season to kick off the post-international break schedule.
Week 5 Schedule
(All times listed in EST.)
Friday, March 29
New York City FC at Toronto FC (8 p.m.; TSN 4/5, ESPN+)
Saturday, March 30
New York Red Bulls at Chicago Fire (1 p.m.; TSN5/ESPN+)
Minnesota United at New England Revolution (2 p.m.; ESPN+)
Montreal Impact at Sporting Kansas City (3 p.m.; TVA Sport, ESPN+)
LAFC at San Jose Earthquakes (3:30 p.m.; Univision)
Philadelphia Union at FC Cincinnati (7:30 p.m.; ESPN+)
Atlanta United at Columbus Crew (7:30 p.m.; ESPN+)
Houston Dynamo at Colorado Rapids (9 p.m.; ESPN+)
FC Dallas at Real Salt Lake (9 p.m.; ESPN+)
Seattle Sounders at Vancouver Whitecaps (10 p.m.; TSN1, ESPN+)
Sunday, March 31
D.C. United at Orlando City (6:30 p.m.; FS1)
Portland Timbers at LA Galaxy (9 p.m.; ESPN2)
Player to Watch
Kendall Waston, D, FC Cincinnati
MLS expansion history is on the line Saturday night at Nippert Stadium. FC Cincinnati could become the first expansion team to reach 10 points in five matches with a win over Philadelphia.
The key to stopping the Union’s attack will be the physical presence of centerback Kendall Waston, who is part of an FC Cincinnati defense that’s conceded once in the last three games.
The experience, positioning and physical ability of the Costa Rican will be important as he goes up against a Union attack with a plethora of pace.
If Waston and Co. silence a Union attack that scored three goals a week ago against Columbus, they’ll continue the remarkable start for the first-year side catching plenty of national attention.
Matchup to Watch
Sacha Kljestan, Orlando City vs. Russell Canouse and Junior Moreno, D.C. United
The first game of Sunday’s national television doubleheader features one of the best midfield matchups of the weekend.
Sacha Kljestan is coming off his best performance of the season against the New York Red Bulls and D.C. United hasn’t given up a goal in three games.
Russell Canouse, who still somehow hasn’t been given a shot to play for the United States men’s national team, and Junior Moreno form the wall in front of the back four that Kljestan is going to have to navigate through.
If Kljestan is successful, Orlando City should create plenty of chances in the final third, but if D.C. continues to shut down opposing attacks, the Black and Red will remain on top of the Eastern Conference.
Fantasy Player to Watch
Bradley Wright-Phillips, F, New York Red Bulls
There are plenty of favorable matchups for the league’s top strikers in Week 5, but we’re going with a player who has been consistent in front of net against his Week 5 foe.
Bradley Wright-Phillips has found the back of the net in each of the last four meetings between the New York Red Bulls and Chicago Fire.
In fact, four of the five goals scored by the Red Bulls in the last two years against the Fire have come from Wright-Phillips, who has one tally to his name in two games in 2019.
In addition to Wright-Phillips’ recent history going in his favor, the Fire gave up seven goals in their first three games and are coming off a four-goal thrashing at the hands of the Seattle Sounders.