CARSON, Calif. -- The LA Galaxy haven't won since June, have slipped to eighth place in the Western Conference standings and are battling elimination from the Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs chase with a little more than a month to go in the campaign.
It's been nearly two decades since Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been in such a situation, it's made for a frustrating first season in America, and no telling how it will play into whether he's back next year.
The Galaxy are 10-11-8, giving away goals galore and riding a seven-game winless streak heading into a key showdown with Seattle Sounders FC at StubHub Center (Sunday, 7 pm ET | FS1 - Full TV & Streaming Info). The Swedish superstar hasn't played on a losing side since his final season with hometown Malmö FF in 2001, and it's taking some getting used to.
“It's a different challenge ...,” Ibrahimovic, who won 11 league titles in Holland, Italy, Spain and France (plus two more that were stripped from Juventus), said Friday afternoon at StubHub Center. “It's a different situation, and it's the first time I feel like anything can happen. Because the teams I've played for, I had that feeling like we're unbeatable. Nobody can destroy us. We will destroy everybody.
“And now it's like you come to a game, it feels like 50-50, anything can happen. We lose 3-0 [in the first half last weekend in Toronto], we're coming up to 3-3 and everything feels good, and you come back in a bad situation, losing 4-3, 5-3. And it's not the only game [this happens]. It is different the situation. The challenge is different, but we still work hard for it, and we don't give up.”
Ibrahimovic saw limited action as a teen when Malmö were relegated from Sweden's Allsvenskan in 1999. The club was back in the top league in 2001, posting a 9-12-5 record to finish ninth. Over the next 17 seasons -- with Ajax, Juventus, Inter Milan, Barcelona, AC Milan and Paris St. Germain -- his clubs averaged not quite three losses per season and finished first or second. Manchester United finished sixth in his only full season, before joining LA.
The Galaxy lost three times in Ibrahimovic's first five MLS games. He recognized there were problems right away.
“I said from the beginning, you don't want to be chasing the game,” he said. “When we were losing, 1-0, 2-0, [or] like the first [game I played, against LAFC on March 31], 3-0, then we win 4-3, then the next games we were chasing results all the time. And that is not the game you want to play, because it destroys your whole game plan and the tactics, all the things you prepare [during] the week, because we have to adjust the game after [falling behind] now, and that has happened too often to us in games. Which should not happen.
“People talk about [what the Galaxy need to be in position for] winning the playoffs and the competition. Conceding so many goals, you don't win. You cannot win the competition like that. It's difficult, and that comes from everybody, not only the defense.”
The Galaxy have fallen behind in the first 10 minutes seven times since Ibrahimovic arrived. They've gone down in the first half-hour nine times. For the season, they've conceded a lead in the first half on 11 occasions. And when LA go ahead, they don't always hold on, and that's cost them 18 points this year.
What needs to change?
“I don't want to talk about luck, because luck is for the less-good teams and less-good players,” said Ibrahimovic, who has 17 goals in 22 games. “So I don't want to have luck. I want to have quality, I want to have a stable season, stable games where you control the games more, and that is where I think the lack has been. We don't control the games, and every time somebody attacks, it feels like we will get hurt instead of 'this is no problem, we take care of it.'
He demurred when asked if at any point he'd wondered what he'd gotten himself into with the Galaxy.
“No, no, never, never,” he replied. “What I get into, I take responsibility. I stand for every word I say, and I work hard for it. Absolutely not. I'm ready and I like the challenge. It's different, but I like it.”
Ibrahimovic's contract with LA lasts through 2019.
“It's not the moment to talk about that, but it's something that I [must] discuss with the club: what they want, what I want.
“But it's not the moment to talk about that. I have five games [left this season]. I'm happy, I'm physically strong, I feel good. I'm producing, so I just need to [be] winning games, and then everything is perfect. It's easy to talk [about that], but we need to do it.”