CARSON, Calif.—Zlatan Ibrahimovic promised big things when the LA Galaxy introduced him on the eve of Saturday's inaugural meeting with crosstown rival LAFC, so big that they were hard to take seriously.
And then, he delivered.
The Swedish superstar, making his first competitive appearance since late December, sparked his new club to a dramatic comeback victory, scoring an incredible equalizer and then putting away a stoppage-time winner as LA turned a three-goal deficit into a 4-3 triumph in front of a delirious sellout crowd at StubHub Center.
And after providing the magic in a victory that will be remembered for ages, he wasn't surprised.
“If you look back, every team I came to, first official game I scored,” Ibrahimovic said afterward. “And I said I will not let it down today, I will score also today, and I was just waiting to come in. When you're losing, 3-0, the adrenaline is pumping even more, because you want to be able to do something, help the team, help especially when you're in a difficult situation. And I just wanted to come in.
“The fans were demanding something, and I gave them Zlatan.”
His recollection isn't perfect -- he scored in his league debuts in Holland, Italy, Spain and Germany, not in his debut for every club -- but nobody's complaining about his flair for the dramatic.
The Galaxy needed something special. Sigi Schmid's side, missing four starters to injury, had more possession than LAFC throughout but did little with it early while Carlos Vela's brace sparked the newcomers to a big lead.
The “We want Zlatan” chants began in the 67th minute, shortly after Sebastian Lletget trimmed LAFC's advantage to 3-1. Schmid had hoped to bring him on earlier but the staff had determined he could last only so many minutes.
“We knew going in that 20 minutes, 25 was max,” Schmid said. “I sort of wanted to bring him in with 30 to go, but I was told no, no, no, we can't do that. And, obviously, he came in and rewarded us.”
As easy as his cameo looked, Ibrahimovic insisted it wasn't.
“I felt I played 40 games for my 20 minutes,” he said. “I was feeling everything: jet lag, didn't play for a long time. I did the first spring, and I was, like, starting to breathe [hard] immediately. So when the second came, I said this time I shoot, I don't run with the ball. That's the ball that went in."
His second touch wasn't much better.
But the third? Incredible.
Daniel Steres won a header from a long Tyler Miller goal kick, and the ball bounced twice, clearing Ola Kamara and a defender with the second. Ibrahimovic measured it, turned with the ball, and volleyed it a good 40 yards over Miller and into the net.
“That was world-class,” head coach Sigi Schmid said. “You can't teach that. First, the vision, to see that he's got the goalkeeper off his line. The ability to raise his leg that high and hit the ball -- it's something don't think many of us can do, even on our best days.
“A coach I used to coach with, he had a saying, he called it 'you dare to be brilliant.' And you can't do something brilliant unless you dare to be brilliant, and Ibrahimovic is the perfect definition of the guy who always dares to be brilliant. And if you do that, you pull off some things. That's gotta be a goal that's going to go around the world. I'm sure it will be a YouTube sensation. It was fantastic.”
Ibrahimovic saw Miller off his line, “and I said I will shoot it over, but it was all depending how I shoot. Do I shoot it high to land in the goal, or do I shoot in front to go power on it, and I chose the power way, and it went in.
“And then the adrenaline starts, and yeah, you don't want it to finish. You put off your shirt and you just want to celebrate with the fans. You want to feel that vibration from them, the energy that is going through the stadium. If I had more strength, I would have run all over the pitch, but I just managed one side of the field.”
Ibrahimovic had more to say about it.
“It's difficult to describe the feeling you go through when you do something like that,” he said. “You cannot describe it. You have to go through it yourself. And I went through it many times, and wherever I went, the fans went crazy. I said before I came here, when I was in Manchester [talking to officials from the] Galaxy, I will make the fans enjoy. That is part of my game, also. Because there is kids out there, and they come here, and you just want to be a good example for them in a crazy way -- can I say it like that? -- by scoring crazy goals.”
He netted the winner just after the clock passed 90. Baggio Husidic found Ashley Cole up the left wing, and Ibrahimovic outleapt Miller and center back Laurent Ciman at the near post to nod the Englishman's cross into the net.
It was a game Ibrahimovic will remember the rest of his days.
“It's difficult to describe,” he said. “I was getting the, how you say, the chicken skin. The bumps.”
“Yes, goosebumps. From that third goal we scored, and then for the fourth was even more crazy because you're winning the game, but after that I was like, 'Just stop the game now. It's enough. I don't want to feel any more adrenaline. ... When you're losing, 3-0, and win, 4-3, for the fans it's fantastic. I heard back there, from another media guy, 'You wake up now the football in the U.S.' I say hopefully, but not in this way, because we want to have control over the game, and we hope that every game is not like that, because it's not easy.
“I can imagine LAFC, now winning, 3-0, [then] losing, 4-3. It's not easy. But if they would have Zlatan, it would be opposite.”