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The Zlatan effect: Ibrahimović draws worldwide attention to MLS, resurrects Galaxy

Los Angeles Galaxy's Zlatan Ibrahimovic, left, of Sweden, celebrates his goal during the second half of an MLS soccer match against the Los Angeles FC Saturday, March 31, 2018, in Carson, Calif. The Galaxy won 4-3. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Zlatan Ibrahimović arrived in Los Angeles Thursday night. By midday Friday he was publicly and — true to himself — not so humbly vowing to score goals, make a difference and help the L.A. Galaxy win.

Almost 24 hours later, he made good on his promise by packaging fun, excitement and a bit of controversy in one mesmerizing debut.

The Swedish striker’s 19-minute outing brought a level of entertainment and interest the MLS regular season typically does not have. It also brought plenty of worldwide attention. His game-changing contributions, including a sensational half-volley from a distance during the 4-3 victory over LAFC, drew headlines from all corners of the globe and were replayed nonstop on social media.

Watch: Zlatan Ibrahimović stunning goal in LA Galaxy debut

It was a dream start, an outrageous one, and, just as importantly for MLS and the Galaxy, a compelling one from the league’s newest marquee player.

The Galaxy are now once again the team to watch in MLS, just as they were when they had David Beckham. Ibrahimović will bring to the league increased jersey sales, ticket sales and plenty of media and fan buzz — even from those not traditionally interested in MLS — at every stop he makes this season. That will especially be the case if he can continue to deliver performances like Saturday’s.

But increased visibility also brings increased scrutiny. That could be seen after Ibrahimović completed the L.A. Galaxy’s comeback by scoring the winner seconds into stoppage time, using his enormous 6-foot-5 frame to nod home a cross from the left. His positioning on the play brought about plenty of debate after of the match.

The replay showed he may have been offside when the ball was sent his way. Even if Ibrahimović was not offside, the decision to not use video review in that decisive moment sparked a conversation about whether MLS, one of the major advocates for using the technology, is implementing it correctly.

In addition to the possible offside oversight, Ibrahimović kicked a ball at a fallen opponent minutes after coming onto the field.

MLS has been accused in the past of giving star treatment to its bigger names. Critics now have more ammunition.

The good is likely to outweigh the bad, however, and the Galaxy will look to capitalize on the Zlatan effect while managing fans’ expectations.

Ibrahimović is coming off a lengthy injury layoff, and you could see as soon as the final whistle blew and the cameras panned to him that he was exhausted. He had his hands on his knees, was quick to grab a water bottle, and did not celebrate with the type of enthusiasm that many of his teammates did.

Even in the postgame broadcast, Ibrahimović had his hands on his sides. His body language read of someone who had spent a lot of energy.

“I felt it. I felt I played 40 games for my 20 minutes,” Ibrahimović told reporters during his postgame news conference. “I was feel everything, jet lag. I didn’t play for a long time. I did a first sprint and I was starting to breathe [heavy] immediately, so when the second came I said, ‘This time I shoot, I don’t run with the ball.’ I said, ‘I will save strength to play another 15 minutes.’

“I was happy when the game was finished because I don’t know if I could play more.”

The Galaxy will aim to work Ibrahimović back to full fitness and get him on the same page as its other standouts, such as Giovanni and Jonathan dos Santos. If the club does that successfully, it will be a threat to all and quite possibly a contender for another MLS Cup.

 

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