CARSON, Calif. — There have been some outstanding players that have toiled on Major League Soccer's fields over the past two decades or so, but there has been only one Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and that's something else entirely.
Just ask him.
“I think the two years I've had here,” he noted after netting his second hat trick of the season Sunday night to highlight the LA Galaxy's 7-2 destruction of Sporting Kansas City, “I've done good things, amazing things, and perfect things. ...
“I think I'm the best-ever player in MLS. And that's without joking.”
He certainly provided more evidence, scoring his 24th, 25th and 26th goals of the campaign to lead the Galaxy (14-13-3) back into the Western Conference's top seven, closer to their first postseason berth since 2016, while eclipsing Carlos Ruiz's club record for goals in a season.
It was his eighth multi-goal game this year, his fourth in the past six games, and his 14th since that auspicious debut 17½ months ago to win the initial showdown with crosstown rivals LAFC.
He might not have been the best player on the field for the Galaxy, not with Cristian Pavon brilliantly driving the attack most of the night, but he couldn't be stopped. And when Ibrahimovic can't be stopped, neither can LA.
“I think it's easy, because he's Zlatan. That is the reason he can be Zlatan,” head coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto said when asked about Ibrahimovic's penchant for coming up big in the biggest encounters. “Big games, he appears. He appears everyday, every game, every time, but especially in the moment [his team needs him most dearly].
“That's the reason he's Zlatan.”
The 37-year-old striker tied Ruiz's club record, set when LA won the Supporters' Shield/MLS Cup double in 2002, with his first goal, slotting home the rebound in the 32nd minute after Sporting goalkeeper Tim Melia dived to deny his penalty kick, the first he's missed in MLS in 11 tries.
No. 25 came from a Rolf Feltscher feed that got stuck underneath him for a second before he danced into position to knock it inside the left post for a 3-1 lead six minutes into the second half. And the third was the Galaxy's final strike, an 85th-minute left-footer inside the right post from an Efrain Alvarez pass.
The big Swede said before the season he was going to set a new league record, but that's not his real aim.
“I don't focus on that,” he said. “I focus on getting my team in the playoffs and the goals I have to score to help my teammates. And if [Vela] wins [the Golden Boot], or whoever wins, it doesn't matter as long as I do my job and help my team.”
He sure helped LA on Sunday. The Galaxy had won just once in their previous eight games and had fallen from second in the West to eighth, just below the playoff line. Now they're fifth with four games to play, and wins in their final two home games — Saturday against the Montreal Impact and Sept. 29 against Western cellar-dwellers Vancouver Whitecaps — should be enough to get them through.
He said the goal record “feels good.”
“I've said from the first day that I came that I'm not here for vacation,” he said. “I'm here to perform and show everybody what the game is about. ... I just have to keep going, keep being in shape, and help my team in the best way, and that's by scoring goals.”