From the moment that Zlatan Ibrahimović stepped off the plane in Los Angeles, he’s transformed Major League Soccer.
It’s no doubt that Ibrahimović is the league’s biggest personality, but is he the Most Valuable Player?
He’s taken the LA Galaxy to the brink of the postseason and is quickly becoming a figure in the American sports landscape. With breathtaking finishes and quotable quips fit for late-night TV, Ibrahimović’s first season in Los Angeles has become the stuff of legend.
As the Galaxy have shot up the standings, Ibrahimović has been doing the heavy lifting and could potentially have the most successful season in league history.
His first tweet after his incredible two-goal debut against LAFC says it all:
Welcome to Major League Zlatan.
Let’s take a look at some of the key numbers of his first season in Los Angeles:
Ibrahimović has scored 22 goals and 10 assists in 26 appearances. But break it down over 90 minutes and his tally of 1.40 goals and assists per 90 minutes is an MLS record.
Ibra’s goals per 90 minutes rank first in MLS
For seven game-winning-goals, the second-best mark in MLS.
With one game remaining this season, the Galaxy sit just a single victory away from reaching the postseason— a reality that seemed impossible just several months earlier without a flourish from the Swede.
Ibrahimović himself has described the award as a “bonus” as he hopes to lead the team to greater awards, but for my money, there is no one else more valuable to his team in MLS this season.
Though Atlanta United forward Josef Martinez seemed to lock down the honor when he set a new league goal scoring record, Atlanta’s own success could work against the Venezuelan forward.
In 2018, Martinez has become the prime beneficiary of Tata Martino’s possession-heavy, quick transition attacking system this year. But with players like Miguel Almiron, Ezquiel Barco, Hector Villalba, it’s likely that if you replaced him with another player, Atlanta would be just as successful.
Despite Martinez’s statistical success with Atlanta, he just simply isn’t as valuable to his team as Ibrahimović is to the Galaxy.
In comparison, Los Angeles’ rollercoaster year has been defined by Zlatan’s play. Repeatedly, the Galaxy have relied upon the super Swede to not only score, but single-handedly lead the team to victory.
The most famous example of his game-winning prowess was his first meeting with LAFC in March, but in July, he was at his best when he scored a hat trick to help the Galaxy overcome lowly Orlando City SC 4-3 at home. When the Swede finds the back of the net, the Galaxy are likely earning three points with the team holding a 9-2-4 record when he scores.
LA Galaxy players have not been shy about Ibrahimovic’s impact, with captain Ashley Cole stating rather glibly that without the Swede, his team “would be nowhere near” returning to the postseason.
And returning to the playoffs is is something Zlatan is determined to do. After all, he made a promise to his team: “My bonus is if I bring my team to playoffs, because I promised them to win the first day we came here in the training [back in March]. I said we will win. So making [the] playoffs and make them win, and I see that happen, I see that [joy] in their faces, that is my satisfaction, not me [as] MVP. It's not about me. It's about everybody.”
Sounds like a Most Valuable Zlatan to me.