Zlatan Ibrahimovich’s road to Russia must go through Atlanta United first


Zlatan Ibrahimovic will be at the World Cup this summer. He’s just not ready to say what he plans to do once he gets there.

“I’m going, yes,” the Galaxy forward said after training earlier this week. “If I give you more, you will have too [many] followers. So let’s keep it like this: You wait and see.”

The list of options isn’t endless though. It’s most likely that Ibrahimovic, who retired from international play 22 months ago, will simply leave the Galaxy during its 20-day break in mid-June and fly to Russia as the face of brand marketing for Visa or any of his other global sponsors. But he could unretire, join Sweden in training camp next month and try to make the team — though it’s not certain he’s wanted.


“With Zlatan, as a person, as a player, he’s an individualist, and the play goes around him. Instead, now, we play more the team all together,” Swedish national team goalkeeper Karl-Johan Johnsson said in an interview with a French website. “It’s a different style of play when you have a player like Zlatan, Cristiano [Ronaldo] or [Lionel] Messi on your team.

“I don’t know if the coach wants such a big change, because he’ll have to change the whole system of how he wants to play.”

In the meantime, Ibrahimovic will continue to prove his fitness with the Galaxy, who meet high-flying Atlanta United on Saturday night at StubHub Center (7:30 p.m., SSN, Spectrum Deportes).

Ibrahimovic, who joined the Galaxy (3-2-1) last month, made his first start last week and scored the game’s only goal in a win over Chicago. In three games he has three scores, which lead the team, and two game-winning goals, second-most in MLS.

But he hasn’t faced a team like Atlanta (4-1-1), which is unbeaten in its last five games, outscoring opponents 15-4 over that span.

“They’re a team with a lot of speed,” Galaxy coach Sigi Schmid said. “They like to get out on the break. They like to counterattack and try to stretch your defense. They’re pretty physical.”

Plus they have the league’s leading scorer in Josef Martinez as well as teenage midfielder Ezequiel Barco, for whom the team paid an MLS-record $15-million transfer fee last winter. Barco, who made his debut off the bench last week, could start Saturday in Atlanta United’s first visit to Southern California.

Defensively, Atlanta — like everyone the Galaxy plays — will be focusing on Ibrahimovic.

“I don’t think I can add anything to his discussion,” United coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino said. “What makes him special is what he does in and around the area because of his size, because of his feet. He’s been decisive in every game he’s played.”

Jeff Larentowicz is one of the players Martino will probably be counting on to try to stop Ibrahimovic, although the former Galaxy midfielder isn’t sure that’s possible.

“You can only hope to contain him, right?” Larentowicz said. “He’s enjoyable to watch and enjoyable to follow. Probably less enjoyable to play against. We will have to put up a fight.”

Follow Kevin Baxter on Twitter @kbaxter11