So unique he is sometimes best described in language from another time, L.A. Galaxy superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic nonetheless will be the clear and present danger when Minnesota United plays in the MLS postseason for the first time Sunday night at its own Allianz Field.
Big, brash and bold, he is a generational player who, at age 38, has won 32 trophies in a 20-year career and scored 542 goals for his clubs and Sweden, where he was born after his Bosnian father and Croatian mother each emigrated there.
Through it all, he has fought with coaches, teammates and opponents alike while he also demonstrated — from Barcelona and Milan to Paris, Manchester and Los Angeles — that no moment or stage is too big for a star who will talk about himself in the third person.
That’s what makes the fifth-seeded, big-budget Galaxy such a dangerous opponent for fourth-seeded United. Even if his team, with midfield mates Uriel Antuna on one side and Cristian Pavon on the other, allowed one more goal than it scored this season.
“Cometh the hour, cometh the man,” United coach Adrian Heath said, borrowing an archaic phrase used to describe Ibrahimovic. “All them sayings show you what makes him different.”
He stands 6-5 and probably plays even bigger than that. He can score every which way, from booming 45-yard strikes and stretching headers in the penalty box to acrobatic bicycle kicks and simple flicks of his foot — a skill he displayed in the regular-season finale.
“He seems to do that,” United veteran midfielder Ethan Finlay said about Ibrahimovic’s most recent goal. “You know what he’s all about. The big thing we can do is possess the ball in the field’s middle third and final third and make him defend.”
Finlay and his teammates know where to find Ibrahimovic come Sunday night: lurking at the far post, where he has made a career converting chances.
“What can you say about the man?” United veteran defender Ike Opara said. “He finds goals. You try to deny service. You try to lock onto him when you can. You try not to allow him space. That’s easier said than done at times. We know what we need to do, but there’s no preparing for him. You do prepare, but you just have to win your battles when you step out there.”
The Swedish Language Council in 2013 introduced the verb “zlatanera” — to dominate — to honor an athlete whose $7.2 million salary makes him MLS’ highest-paid player during this season when he scored 30 goals.
“He scores all goals,” Heath said. “People don’t realize until they’re close up to him how big he is.”
Ibrahimovic signed with the Galaxy in March 2018 late in his career, after two previous seasons with Manchester United. He scored twice as a sub in his MLS debut to defeat crosstown rival LAFC and afterward said, “I heard the crowd saying, ‘We want Zlatan, we want Zlatan,’ ’’ he said. “So I gave them Zlatan.”
Ibrahimovic scored a goal and had an assist in a 3-1 victory over United last Oct. 21 in its last game at TCF Bank Stadium before a record-setting crowd announced at more than 52,000. United broke an attendance record set at a 1976 Minnesota Kicks game, but Ibrahimovic, in the days before the game, suggested he was the attraction. “I’m sure they’re not coming for Minnesota. So, I come and I make them enjoy,” he said.
He scored 22 goals last season and was named MLS Newcomer of the Year. He missed a game in March this season against United in L.A. In April, United stopped his five-game scoring streak in a scoreless tie at Allianz Field.
Afterward, he said he considered the draw two points lost rather than one gained because “I didn’t see the opponent as being good.”
Consider it Zlatan being Zlatan.
“Well, when you score over 500 goals and what has he won, 18 or 19 major titles?” Heath asked. “I actually quite like his personality. It’s not everybody’s cup of tea, but I think if you’re going to be that guy, you have to back it up, and that’s generally what he does.”
Heath just hopes that Ibrahimovic won’t be able to do it Sunday, when his presence will quicken the game’s pulse.
“It’ll be good to see him in the stadium,” Heath said. “It’ll be good for some of our supporters who have not seen him before come have a look at one of the iconic players of his generation.”
• United defender Ike Opara wore a protective mask during training with teammates Tuesday in Blaine.
Coach Adrian Heath said Opara wore it after getting hit in the nose and said Opara likely will have a “little op” on his nasal area after the season.
“I’ve taken a lot of hits, so let’s leave it at that,” Opara said.
• Midfielders Jan Gregus and Kevin Molino returned Tuesday to United after playing for their national teams; Gregus plays for Slovakia, Molino for Trinidad and Tobago. Finland teammates Robin Lod and Rasmus Schuller and U.S. Under-23 teammates Hassani Dotson and Mason Toye are expected back by Friday.
loons vs. l.a. galaxy
7:30 p.m. Sunday (ESPN)