The Union on Saturday night will host one of the biggest stars ever to take the field at Talen Energy Stadium, when Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the Los Angeles Galaxy visit Chester.
Not since David Beckham came to town in the Union’s inaugural season has one player singlehandedly filled the stands in the way Ibrahimovic will Saturday. Some big names have played here since then: Thierry Henry, Andrea Pirlo, Steven Gerrard, and Didier Drogba, to name a few (and as a reminder, they’ve all been on the other team). But Ibrahimovic has even more cachet on and off the field. Much of the sellout crowd will be there to see him, not the Union.
He is, by nearly any measure, an extraordinary athlete: 6-foot-5, 209 pounds, 5.2 million Twitter followers, 34.3 million Instagram followers, and infinite charisma. And he has backed it up, winning trophies in England, Italy, Spain, France, and the Netherlands over his 17-year career.
A post shared by Zlatan Ibrahimović (@iamzlatanibrahimovic) on
Ibrahimovic can bully you with his size, and can stun you with bicycle kicks, long-range blasts and on-a-dime flicks. And he can score in volume: He has 414 goals in 697 career games.
He still has the talent at age 36. He hasscored 11 goals in 14 games for the Galaxy, highlighted by a pair of epic strikes in his debut against crosstown rival LAFC.
Zlataaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan@RodolfoLanderos @marianot19 @SirJohnLaguna @MottaJaime @JoannaZanella #MLSenFD #ElTráfico @LAGalaxy_Es @futbolMLS #LADerby pic.twitter.com/IepBiWP8iG
— FOX Deportes (@FOXDeportes) March 31, 2018
So, what will the Union do about him? They’ll start two 19-year-old Americans at the core of their defense.
Laugh if you want, but Auston Trusty and Mark McKenzie have earned this moment. They’ve built a terrific centerback partnership, impressing observers across MLS and the U.S. national team program. Wednesday’s shutout of Orlando City in the U.S. Open Cup was the latest example. Union manager Jim Curtin knows they are in for a big test. He believes they are ready — and knows there’s only so much he can do.
“It’s probably safe to say they’ll never play against a guy like that [again], even in the next 15 to 20 years,” Curtin said. “You give them as much information as you can, you prepare them as best you can, and then it can be a helpless feeling as you sit back and watch the 90 minutes. … We have to continue to do what we usually do at home, which is play good soccer [and] be good on the ball so that all the people who come in their Zlatan jerseys don’t get to see a lot of him.”
The Union will send two 19-year-old American center backs out to play against Zlatan Ibrahimovic, in a game where Union fans will likely be outnumbered in their own stadium. Jim Curtin reflects on what Saturday night will mean for his team: pic.twitter.com/YvGkPRn3J0
— Jonathan Tannenwald (@thegoalkeeper) July 19, 2018
U.S. Open Cup draw postponed
The Union will have to wait a few more days to find out whether they will host or visit the Chicago Fire in the U.S. Open Cup semifinals. The draw for hosting rights was scheduled for Thursday, but it was postponed because the Portland Timbers filed a protest of their quarterfinal loss at Los Angeles FC. Portland claimed that LAFC used more foreign players than tournament rules allow.
The rules state that clubs may list only five non-domestic players on 18-player game-day rosters, with green-card holders counting as domestic. LAFC listed six non-domestic players, but one of them — Canadian midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye — counts as domestic in MLS competition because he is a product of Toronto FC’s academy. LAFC could be forced to forfeit the game as a result.
A statement from the U.S. Soccer Federation, which runs the Open Cup, said that the governing body would review the matter “as soon as possible,” and that “the timing for the draw will be determined in the near future.”
The semifinals are scheduled to be played Aug. 8. Whichever of Portland and LAFC ends up advancing will face the Houston Dynamo, which took out defending champion Sporting Kansas City in a quarterfinal Wednesday.
Union vs. Los Angeles Galaxy
Saturday, 7 p.m. at Talen Energy Stadium
Union’s record: 7-9-3, 24 points (7th in the East); 5-3-2 at home
Galaxy’s record: 8-7-4, 28 points (6th in the West); 3-3-3 on the road
Series history: Galaxy 6 wins, Union 1 win, 3 ties
At Talen Energy Stadium: Union 0 wins, Galaxy 2 wins, 2 ties
Galaxy players to watch
F Zlatan Ibrahimovic: The Galaxy’s biggest star, and one of the biggest stars ever in MLS. He was rested for last weekend’s trip to New England, but he scored six goals in the four games before that. He’ll be ready to show off here.
M Chris Pontius: A great locker room presence for the Union in 2016 and 2017, he has found his old attacking form again after moving west. The 31-year-old has five goals and four assists this season, including two goals at New England.
— LA Galaxy (@LAGalaxy) July 15, 2018
M Jonathan dos Santos: He is a star of Mexico’s national team, along with his brother and Galaxy teammate Giovani. Don’t be surprised if there are a few El Tri jerseys in the stands amid all the Zlatan fans.