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Zlatan More Than Lived Up to the Hype in One of the Most Iconic Moments in MLS History

If there were any questions about how Zlatan would fit in on the Galaxy or in MLS, they were swept aside in his incredible first game against LAFC.

Recency bias is a real thing. Too often in sports, we want to call someone or something in the news the greatest ever, and 99.9999% of the time we’re wrong.

But then there is that 0.0001% of the time when the amazing thing you just saw really is the greatest ever.

So I’ll come right out and say it: Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s debut Saturday for the L.A. Galaxy—in which he came on in the 71st minute, scored once from 40 yards and once again in stoppage time, helping the Galaxy overcome a 3-0 second-half deficit to win 4-3 in its first-ever game against crosstown rival LAFC—is the most indelible moment in MLS history.

There have been more significant great games in the annals of MLS, of course, none more so than San Jose’s 2003 playoff comeback from a four-goal second-leg deficit against the Galaxy. And there have been huge-buzz-that-delivered games, too, led by the New York Red Bulls’ 5-4 win against L.A. in David Beckham’s first MLS start in 2007.

But for pure tell-your-grandkids-I-was-there drama, the kind of unforgettable moment that instantly goes into the lore of a league, MLS has nothing to beat what Ibrahimovic did on Saturday.

Think about it. First, the stakes. It was the first game for Los Angeles bragging rights between the Galaxy, the most successful team in MLS history (which has struggled the last couple years) and an expansion LAFC team that burst out of the gates with two away wins in its first two games.

LAFC built a 3-0 lead on national TV in the Galaxy’s house, a sold-out StubHub Center. By the 60th minute, LAFC had kept that three-goal advantage and was toying with its foe so much that the Galaxy were getting “Oléd” by the opposing fans in its own stadium.

Then Sebastian Lletget pulled one back for L.A. in the 61st minute, setting the stage for Ibra to come on 10 minutes later. Remember: Ibrahimovic just landed in Southern California two nights ago. There were big questions about the effects of a significant knee injury that had kept him from playing for much of the past year with Manchester United.

What happened then is the stuff of legend.

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Chris Pontius scored for L.A. in the 73rd for 3-2. And four minutes later, Ibrahimovic beat LAFC keeper Tyler Miller from wayyyyy out with a sidewinder swipe of his right leg, the kind of shot that few players in this world would even have the audacity to take, much less finish.


If Ibrahimovic had done nothing more the rest of the game and it had finished 3-3, it would have been one of the great moments in league history.

But there was more to come.

In the 91st minute, not long after LAFC’s Marco Ureña had hit the post in a late effort to steal a win, the Galaxy’s Ashley Cole sent a cross from the left side into the box. Ibrahimovic beat Miller to the ball and headed it across the goal and in.

4-3 Galaxy. Game over.

Replays raised questions over whether Ibra may have been slightly offside, but Ibrahimovic was behind the ball and thus onside. In any case, those who are larger than life are never offside.

About the only thing missing was a second yellow card for a second removal of Ibra’s jersey. That would have been epic.

And so we are left with a player, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who took out a full-page ad in the Los Angeles Times last week to announce his arrival that simply said, “Dear Los Angeles, You’re Welcome.” 

Somehow, despite it all, he undersold it. Most indelible moment in MLS history.