CARSON, Calif. — Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been with the LA Galaxy for five weeks now and is starting to getting a feel for what Major League Soccer is about. He's finding the landscape different from what he knew in Europe.
The challenges here can differ greatly from those across the Atlantic, and he can see how that goes hand-in-hand.
The Swedish superstar, who's preparing for his sixth MLS appearance (and third start) Saturday night in Houston (8:30 pm ET - Full TV & streaming info) , is just getting to know the travel regimen (he said it wasn't an issue after LA's trip to Chicago last month), and he's not yet played in the summer furnaces away from the West Coast, so there's still a ways to go on his learning curve.
What he has figured out is that “the risk you take is different” in MLS. In Europe, where he spent two decades in Sweden, Netherlands, Italy, Spain, France and England, and the regular-season title was decided on the schedule, every point is essential in the chase for trophies and UEFA Champions League berths.
“Here, I think, the playoffs are the most important, and you can come ... not bottom, but you can come in the middle of the table and win the whole thing,” Ibrahimovic said. “It's different, so this is something I have to learn, get into that system, and, yeah, adjust my approach for the whole thing like that.”
The greatest difference between the game, he says, is the pace.
“The pace is different from Premier League now, because Premier League is something special,” said Ibrahimovic, who spent a year-and-a-half with Manchester United before joining the Galaxy. “The pace is different, the tactic is different, the risk you take is different.”
He says it's not that the game “is slower,” but rather in how pace of play impacts the game's details.
“Everybody can pass a ball, but the question is how fast can you pass it,” he said. “How fast do you react? How fast do you read the game?”
Some of it, Ibrahimovic acknowledged, can be attributed to “the climate here.”
“It's hot. It's not like you can run, like, 90 minutes crazy,” he said. “It's different factors. So you adjust after everything and you try to make it better.”
Tactical sophistication, he says, is about history and culture. MLS is in its 23rd season; the Premier League's roots date back 130 years.
“MLS, how long does it exist?” Ibrahimovic said. “And in other leagues it's much longer, so it's a progress, the whole thing, and [it grows with the help of] the people you get here who have this experience from Europe or other countries where the football has been existing for a longer time.”
He appreciates the differences and likes what he sees.
“It's going in the right direction,” he said. “That's why I came here, also, to be one of the pieces that helps it and try to make it better.”