In his first season of top-flight professional soccer, a teenaged Zlatan Ibrahimovic played six games and scored one goal for a Malmo team relegated out of Sweden’s highest league for the only time since World War II.
Things have gotten a little better in the two decades since, with Ibrahimovic lifting 33 trophies, winning multiple scoring titles in Italy and France and breaking the Swedish national team record for goals.
On Saturday he has a chance to add to that history when the Galaxy take on Minnesota United at the StubHub Center. If Ibrahimovic, who has 10 goals in his last seven games, scores two more he’ll join Barcelona’s Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo of Juventus as the only active players with 500 goals for club and country.
“It means a lot,” Ibrahimovic said of the milestone Thursday. “In the beginning of my career there were some thoughts I was good but I didn’t know how to score. That triggers me, that motivates me now.
“I trained a lot for those goals. And when it happens, it will be cool to have 500 goals.”
Many of Ibrahimovic’s scores have been memorable, but the one he won’t forget came on an improbable 30-yard bicycle kick against England in a 2012 friendly in Stockholm. (www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xh_KNH8QqSw). Ibrahimovic celebrated by ripping his shirt off, just as he did on his first MLS goal against LAFC and his most recent one against Orlando City.
“Every goal has its own adrenaline, its own emotion,” he said. “There is nothing planned. It depends on the moment, the situation.”
And Minnesota United offers an inviting target for such a moment, having allowed an MLS-high 116 goals since joining the league last season.
Ibrahimovic has rushed toward the 500-goal milestone, scoring a conference-best 15 goals in 17 games since joining the Galaxy in March, including his first MLS hat trick two weeks ago. But he hasn’t played since then, sitting out last week’s loss in Colorado as a league-mandated penance for skipping the MLS All-Star Game.
“He’s an icon of soccer and he’s accomplishing it with us. That’s something to be proud of,” Galaxy coach Sigi Schmid said. “Obviously his scoring a goal this weekend is a good thing for us.”
Especially with the Galaxy (10-8-5) coming off their first loss since May, snapping a nine-game unbeaten streak. A win Saturday could lift the team into second in the Western Conference standings.
“We want to start a new streak,” Schmid said. “Sometimes you get bumps in the road and that was a bump in the road. We just have to make sure that’s what it was.”
Minnesota (9-13-1) has won four of its last seven but none of those wins came on the road, where United is a league-worst 1-9. Plus the Loons will be playing their first game without Christian Ramirez, last year’s leading scorer, who was sold to LAFC for allocation money this week. They will have Darwin Quintero, the team’s first-ever designated player. Quintero, who joined the roster from Mexico’s Club America in March, leads the team with 10 goals in 18 games.