- Zlatan Ibrahimovic added another stunner to his collection, but while all the focus is on the feat, the big-picture takeaway is that his Galaxy are on life support after yet another defensive clunker.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic turned his affinity for martial arts into the goal of the season, so let's jump right into this week's MLS XI look back at the best of the weekend with his elevated roundhouse golazo and how things spiraled from there in the headlining bout of a potentially pivotal weekend on the league calendar:
I. The audacity of Zlatan Ibrahimovic
It's not often that a feat in a losing effort merits mention No. 1, but such was the audacity of Zlatan Ibrahimovic's 500th career goal for club and country (which brings him in elite company among active players alongside only Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi). He's shown the thought process like this before: Incubate an idea in realtime, put himself in position to execute and then, magically, pull it off. His long-range, flying bicycle kick vs. England in 2012 and his debut goal for the Galaxy vs. LAFC are just a pair to come to mind. This, like those before it, was insane.
He even appeared to inspire Leonardo Bonucci at one of his former clubs, Juventus. The veteran defender tried, unsuccessfully, to go with the spinning martial arts kick off a corner, only to hit it into the eventual path (after a defensive header off the post) of Ronaldo, who benefited and scored his first goal with his new club.
Ibrahimovic's audacity didn't end with his goal, either. He signed *a kid's head* at BMO Field after the match:
And some of his most audacious moments were saved for his postgame remarks...
II. Get Zlatan and Michael Bradley in the Octagon
The frustration at continuing to have his team lose while he does what's expected of him (17 goals, eight assists in 22 games) is clearly boiling over for Ibrahimovic, who went nose-to-nose with Michael Bradley in stoppage time and had some choice words for the U.S. veteran both during and after the altercation.
Usually other players quickly back down from confrontations with Zlatan, and he became quite angry when Michael Bradley refused to be intimidated.— #ThankYouDeuce (@JogaBonito_USA) September 16, 2018
Fascinating interchange between two extremely intense characters. I'd love for that to be mic'd up!#TORvLA #TFCLive #LAGalaxy #MLS pic.twitter.com/tJ8LE1ftyx
"I have more goals than he has games," is a classic condescending kicker ... If only it were true!
III. The real aftermath of LA's loss
The focus and praise belong to Zlatan, but his Galaxy are just about toast, and that's about as stunning a failure as there's been in MLS. Look at the payroll. Look at the names on paper. And yet they've conceded five or more goals in three of their last four matches–and multiple goals in eight of their last night–are on a second manager and are clinging to life.
"Still we make decisions and simple mistakes that we get punished for. Normally sometimes when you do those mistakes, you don’t punished, you get away from it but at the moment we get punished very badly,” Ibrahimovic said, in perhaps his most truthful remarks of the evening.
Zlatan may have stolen the spotlight with another golazo, but it again came with his team in a losing position, much like his debut strike. It makes you wonder how much Ibrahimovic will want to stick around for another season, even though his contract runs through 2019.
As for Toronto FC, it secured the three points it needed to keep pace in the playoff hunt–but only after blowing a three-goal lead at home. The Reds will take the points any way they can get them, but the fact remains they're nine points out of a playoff spot with six games to go (and a game in hand on sixth-place Montreal). They'll need to tighten it up in the back and basically win out to avoid the fate that surely belongs to its big-spending counterpart out west.
IV. For every action, there is an equal and opposite BWP
Bradley Wright-Phillips: One-man comeback machine.
Three times the New York Red Bulls fell behind D.C. United at Audi Field on Sunday, and three times Wright-Phillips provided answers, giving his side a 3-3 draw and a key point in the race to secure a first-round bye in the playoffs.
Who figured that Wright-Phillips would be the star Englishman stealing the headlines after a date at Wayne Rooney's new house? BWP has really made himself at home in D.C.'s new confines. It was in his other match there that he scored his 100th career MLS goal.
V. This is an excellent callback
Remember when Real Salt Lake manager Mike Petke went off on VAR for falling asleep at the wheel, saying "Maybe he was watching 'The Simpsons'" and missing what he felt were obvious calls in a July loss to Minnesota United? Well, in the rematch, it was MNUFC's turn to feel hard done by replay. A would-be late winner from Miguel Ibarra was nullified after replay determined Darwin Quintero was offside in the build-up, leaving the point to be shared by Minnesota and RSL, and the Loons to echo Petke's sentiment.
VI. Farewell, Colorado
The Colorado Rapids have joined the San Jose Earthquakes as teams eliminated from the playoffs with more than a month to go. Both brought in new managers and made significant tweaks to their squads. Both are now back to the drawing board. In a league of quickly developing haves and have-nots, the two Western Conference sides are trending toward the wrong end.
VII. An unselfish MVP
Josef Martinez will undoubtedly be crowned league MVP in a few weeks, but he's on a season-long goal slump of ... two games. He could've easily avoided that and tallied his 29th of the season, but he instead served one on a platter for Miguel Almiron, doing his part to spark the Paraguayan in his two-goal, one-assist masterpiece in Colorado.
Atlanta sits alone atop the Supporters' Shield standings now, taking advantage of the Red Bulls' draw to move to 57 points–one clear of RBNY with a game in hand. It's not inconceivable that Atlanta catches or passes the single-season points record set last season by Toronto FC, either. In its last six games, Atlanta needs four wins to match TFC's mark of 69. Any combination of 13 points would set a new standard.
VIII. Definition of defense-splitting
Pure filth from Felipe Gutierrez, who is back healthy, back in form and pulling the strings yet again for a Sporting Kansas City team that shows no signs of slowing down come October, unlike its most recent predecessors.
IX. The Sounders simply cannot lose
Make that nine straight wins for the second-half sensations, the Seattle Sounders. Raul Ruidiaz's double (with the help of an absolutely atrocious backpass) did the honors in Vancouver, where Seattle wrapped up the Cascadia Cup crown and matched the fifth-longest winning streak in league history.
There's still six games to go to match the LA Galaxy's run in 1997-1998, but Seattle shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
X. This is emblematic of Orlando City's form
On the flip side of good form resides these two teams. One of the Chicago Fire and Orlando City had a chance to snap a lengthy winless skid when the two battled at Toyota Park, and it was Chicago that snapped its nine-match run of futility (while extending Orlando's to nine). With plays like these, courtesy of Orlando goalkeeper Joe Bendik, you can see why.
XI. Mirroring 4-1 losses
Two early go-ahead goals, followed by a complete capitulation: Such was life for the Philadelphia Union and Portland Timbers, who thought they were on their way to key three-point hauls only to be derailed by the Montreal Impact and Houston Dynamo, respectively. Both also blew chances to drive their playoff stakes further into the ground, at best missing out on opportunities to secure home field in the wildcard round, and at worst slipping and opening the door for trailing teams to catch up and make things interesting down the home stretch.
Their paths remain intertwined this week, as Philly and Portland will look to do each other a solid. The Union face the Sounders, who, despite their winning streak, are tied on points with Portland for fifth. The Timbers, meanwhile, take on a Columbus team that's four points clear of Philadelphia for a home playoff game after a 0-0 draw vs. FC Dallas.