Zlatan Ibrahimovic had an MLS debut for the history books, but what comes next? Plus, another league star made an impactful first appearance of the season and yet another big name is on the way.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic had barely been in the United States–for all of what, 36 hours?–before claiming MLS as his own.
The lion roared, and roared loudly in making his league debut and the first LA Galaxy-LAFC derby exceed all possible expectations on an eventful MLS Saturday–and the Galaxy's win was the second 4-3 thriller of the afternoon! In all, the weekend's 11 matches yielded 36 goals. Not one was scored by injury-riddled Seattle, which is facing plenty of early-season adversity, while two were scored by Dom Dwyer in his long-awaited first game of the season. The weekend featured revenge served cold by a jilted player in Columbus; defending champ Toronto FC's first win of the season; the continued ascension of NYCFC; and a back-and-forth draw between Chicago and Portland in which another Manchester United castaway, Bastian Schweinsteiger, left his imprint in securing the point.
No game featured the theater and drama of El Tráfico, though, with the main actor delivering a performance that'll be tough to top at any point in the remainder of his time in the league–though given what we've learned immediately about Ibrahimovic, he cares not what your expectations for him may be.
For all of SI.com's analysis and reaction to Ibrahimovic's debut, read Brian Straus's piece on how Zlatan gave the Galaxy faithful what they asked for and Grant Wahl's piece on how his debut instantly becomes an indelible part of MLS history.
For more on the Galaxy's new lion to Orlando City's Lions and beyond, here's the best from a riveting weekend across the league:
I. The fallout from El Tráfico
You wonder what the long-lasting impact will be from such an event. For LAFC, the club was minutes from going into its new rival's den, spoiling its big splash and emerging with a perfect 3-0-0 record. Instead, it's left with paw prints on its face and the first loss in club history after Ibrahimovic's remarkable 20-minute cameo. There has to be a psychological fallout from that, and for Bob Bradley and his staff, managing the mental aspect of the loss will be almost as important as tweaking the tactical breakdowns that allowed for it to happen. What happens the next time the club holds a multi-goal lead? The response will be quite telling.
The good news for LAFC is that it's only just turned to April, new DP signing Andre Horta is on his way–oh, and it held a 3-0 lead at StubHub Center while its supporters "Ole'd" in enemy territory. There are plenty of useful building blocks from the first hour to ensure this loss doesn't derail what still looks to be a sensational expansion season.
For the Galaxy, it's all about bringing Ibrahimovic along and capitalizing on this incredible momentum. The fact that the win occurred without either Dos Santos brother fit for selection is a bonus, but, as Zlatan astutely said in his post-game remarks, it's pretty horrible to be down 3-0, especially at home to a rival. The win is great, but the process it took to get there isn't sustainable. Ibrahimovic himself readily admitted that he was running on adrenaline and lion fumes. Once the honeymoon phase of his signing wears off, will the club be stabilized and hitting on all cylinders on a consistent basis and not be in need of his 40-yard wondervolleys and stoppage-time winners? That becomes manager Sigi Schmid's charge after expertly navigating Ibrahimovic's debut.
All in all, MLS (sorry, MLZ) and its fans were the big winners after this nationally televised spectacle captured the amazement and wonder of everyone.
Like most Hollywood features, the sequel will be hard-pressed to top the original, but we can't wait to find out on July 26, when the scene shifts to LAFC's new Banc of California Stadium. We'll know plenty more about both teams and how they've progressed since Saturday by then.
II. Was Zlatan offside on the game-winner?
Dr. Joe (and FOX video evidence) says no. Still, it's a bit curious that VAR wasn't at least consulted in the moment. Can you imagine the outrage had it been called off?
From @DrJoeMachnik: "I have just seen Stuart's Tweet photo and it is safe to say that he was behind the ball at the moment the ball was played, and the ball is what counts in this regard as the ball was closer to the goal line than any of the defenders.— Grant Wahl (@GrantWahl) March 31, 2018
III. ICYMI: New Swedish signing connects for gorgeous goal
We're talking about NYCFC's Anton Tinnerholm, of course.
IV. Dom Dwyer's multi-layered return
Orlando City happily welcomed Dom Dwyer into the lineup for the first time all season, and he obliged with a pair of goals in a needed 4-3 win over the New York Red Bulls. His first came with a bit of controversy, as he appeared to totally stiff-arm goalkeeper Luis Robles into the goal while contorting his body to redirect Yoshimar Yotun's corner kick in for the score.
Regardless, the goals paled in comparison to what Dwyer contributed after the game, when he gave his jersey to the family of an Orlando City supporter who recently died. There's much more to the game than controversial calls and the scoreboard.
The incomparable @Ddwyer14 commented on what it meant to give his game jersey to the loved ones of the @IronLionFirm's Miguel Vasquez. The room got choked up when he talked about the capo being buried in it.— Orlando Derby (@orlandoderby) March 31, 2018
You can donate to his family here: https://t.co/oiwF5n78vt pic.twitter.com/sDQgjWk8jo
V. When the stepovers aren't just for show
Well, well, well, Cristian Penilla! This goal helped the New England Revolution extend their unbeaten run to three with a 2-0 win over the Houston Dynamo, and gave Penilla his first MLS goal to go along with three assists in four appearances.
VI. This had to feel good for Kei Kamara
Remember when Kei Kamara was abruptly ushered out of Columbus in 2016, on the heels of a 22-goal season? Well, this perfect game-winning header in Columbus for his second club since then, Vancouver, dealt the Crew their first loss of the season.
VII. This had to feel horrible for Crew fans
Ooooooof. Pure savagery.
VIII. We get it, he's named for Charles Darwin
Darwin Quintero has officially arrived in Minnesota as the club's first true top-notch signing and DP, and the club is all in on the puns to embrace his namesake, Charles Darwin.
🔬🔬🔬🔬🔬🔬🔬🔬🔬🔬🔬🔬🔬🔬🔬🔬🔬🔬🔬🔬🔬🔬🔬🔬🔬🔬🔬🔬🔬🔬🔬🔬🔬🔬🔬🔬🔬🔬🔬🔬🔬🔬🔬🔬— Minnesota United FC (@MNUFC) March 31, 2018
What would be true evolution is if Minnesota continues splashing the cash on the central playmaker it needs to tie everything together. And surely there's a formula that should've allowed the club take at least a point from its home clash vs. Atlanta United, in which the visitors went down to 10 men in the 38th minute, yet still won on an early Francisco Calvo own goal. All that said, this is a welcome statement of intent from Minnesota, and we're eager to see where it goes. Quintero, despite being 30, is a wonderful talent.
IX. Is this the league's best new signing?
Zlatan and some others will clearly have something to say about this in a few weeks' time, but Felipe Gutierrez has played in five MLS games, has five goals and his Sporting Kansas City sits atop the Western Conference. That is a solid early return on investment (no matter if his latest goal was helped by a defensive redirect).
X. The Colorado Rapids hadn't had someone score a hat trick in seven years
Dominique Badji put an end to that ignominious stretch with his second-half explosion vs. the Philadelphia Union. Badji has shown flashes of being a productive and opportunistic scorer with his 15 goals in the last two seasons, and the Rapids will surely hope this kick-starts a consistent stretch of finding the back of the net.
XI. Don't forget Toronto FC is still the league's king
Lost in the Los Angeles hoopla was what occurred Friday night in Toronto, where reigning champion Toronto FC, without regular starters Justin Morrow, Chris Mavinga and Victor Vazquez, rolled Real Salt Lake 3-1 on two Jozy Altidore goals (he now has 50 with the club in all competitions) and an insurance strike from Tosaint Ricketts.
TFC, which has bigger fish to fry in a Concacaf Champions League semifinal vs. Club America this week, needed that one to get off the mark in league play. But with a very favorable stretch coming up and CCL play winding down one way or another, the Reds are poised to surge back up the table and reclaim their territory. Unfortunately, we won't see how they stack up against either L.A. side until they face them both consecutively at home in September.