CARSON, Calif. — Zlatan Ibrahimovic was amused by how the conversation blew up around his “Ferrari among Fiats” statement, and if any of his teammates felt slighted, well, he didn't mean them.
“What I was trying to say: I was a Ferrari in MLS. That is all,” the Swedish superstar noted Thursday as the LA Galaxy (12-8-1) prepared for their Western Conference showdown in Portland against the Timbers (8-8-4) on Saturday (10:30 pm ET | FS1, FOX Deportes, TSN4). “Not my teammates. Because my teammates are with me, so if I'm a Ferrari, they are Ferraris, too.”
That might seem a stretch, but Ibrahimovic's most studied comment from last week's ESPN interview — “here I am like a Ferrari among Fiats” — was his honest assessment of a league that “could be so much faster, so much more tactical, so much more rhythmic.”
Major League Soccer has grown greatly since its 1996 launch, particularly in the dozen years since David Beckham joined the Galaxy, but nobody is claiming that the league is on par — on the field, at least — with the top teams in the English Premier League, German Bundesliga, Spanish La Liga, Italian Serie A nor French Ligue 1.
Maybe MLS can get there, Ibrahimovic suggests.
“It's a long process of history — the thing the game has developed, the things the whole league has gone through — and the league is young,” said LA's 37-year-old captain, who has netted 16 of his club's 30 league goals this season. “It's generation after generation that it takes a development, but the US team is doing great, and they have a couple players that are good.
“… It will come here. Progress. You put the right people in command and try do develop the whole thing, and try to make it even better. So you need these persons with this experience. And I think only about one thing and not the other things. It cannot only be business and the development is not there, because you need also the development.”
MLS clubs have been at the forefront of player development for more than a decade, and more good young players are emerging now than ever before, including Ibrahimovic's teammates Efrain Alvarez and Julian Araujo, teens that the Swede widely praised. But, he opined, there’s still more to be done.
“[Locally developed players] are the most important,” he said. “They are the future, they are the stamp of American football, let's say American soccer in this case. So they are even more import. But loosening up the rules and bringing in more foreigners doesn't mean you give up your own players.”
What needs to happen to provide MLS with more American (and Canadian) Ferraris? Start with the regulations that limit roster expansion and the amount of money that can be spent on players.
“I think with all the rules and that, [the league has] to loosen up, so you get more quality to make it more shiny,” Ibrahimovic said. “So the quality goes up, but slowly it will get there. It's a long process with all these rules, and I think also the system, the way it works with playoffs. I know that it works in the other sports here — because basketball in America is already fantastic — now you have to make the MLS fantastic.
“That will take time, but if you loosen up the system and that, you will give it a huge boost. Because players need to develop and progress faster, [and it helps if] you need to win every game.
“It's something to look at. But I'm not here to change the rules. I'm here to show how the game is played.”