Zlatan Ibrahimovic makes his Major League Soccer postseason debut on Sunday with Los Angeles Galaxy fans wondering if the Swedish striker’s first taste of playoff action may turn out to be his last.
After a dazzling regular season campaign, which included 30 goals in 29 games, Ibrahimovic has inspired Galaxy’s return to the playoffs after a two-year absence.
But as the five-time MLS Cup winners prepare for Sunday’s first round away tie against Minnesota United, Ibrahimovic’s future in MLS remains shrouded in uncertainty.
The 38-year-old former Manchester United and Paris St. Germain star’s form in MLS has given rise to persistent reports that he may yet be lured away for one last career swansong.
Argentine side Boca Juniors have been linked to a move for the forward while Premier League and Serie A clubs are also reportedly circling.
Ibrahimovic, meanwhile, has pointedly declined to commit himself beyond the end of his current contract, which runs out in December.
“Oh, 100 percent, I know I could still make the difference, both in Italy and in other countries,” Ibrahimovic said this month when asked if he was capable of thriving in Europe.
“I’d do better than the players who are there now. My contract expires in December, and I don’t know what will happen after that.”
It all means that Ibrahimovic is potentially only one defeat away from the end of his career with the Galaxy as the MLS postseason kicks off this weekend.
A win for the Galaxy at Minnesota on Sunday would set up a blockbuster Western Conference semi-final against Los Angeles FC next Thursday. History suggests that Galaxy should have enough to advance past Minnesota.
In six previous meetings with the team known as The Loons, the Galaxy have never lost, a record that encompasses four victories.
Galaxy coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto sounded a note of caution however, pinpointing Minnesota’s Colombian forward Darwin Quintero as the potential danger man.
“He’s very talented,” Schelotto said. “He can make a goal where you think, ‘What happened?’ He can do that because he’s very talented, he can do things with the ball that other people can’t do that.”
– Rooney swansong –
While Ibrahimovic has so far declined to specify his future plans, there is no such uncertainty surrounding former Manchester United team-mate Wayne Rooney.
Rooney, who has made a similar impact in MLS since signing for D.C. United last year, will pack his bags and return to Britain after this season to take up a new role with Championship side Derby County.
First, however, the former England captain is hoping to lead D.C. United deep into the playoffs. United’s postseason starts with a challenging away tie in Toronto on Saturday, with a possible semi-final against New York City FC awaiting the winner next Wednesday.
“When I first joined here, I wanted to win a trophy,” said Rooney, who has amassed 23 goals in 48 regular-season appearances since arriving in MLS. “Obviously, leaving a bit earlier than we all thought, this is my last opportunity. That’s my goal before I go.”
D.C. United manager Ben Olsen credits Rooney with helping to set the club back on the road to success, saying he had “really pushed this club forward.”
“He’s been a big plus for this club,” Olsen said. Working with him, it’s been a really good relationship.
“On the field, I think he’s helped us in a big way. Off the field, I think he’s pushed me. I think he’s made me a better coach, a better manager. And I think he’s been a very good teammate and a good ambassador to the club.”