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Galaxy’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic proud to represent ‘the new Sweden’

Zlatan Ibrahimovic will receive an award Saturday at the StubHub Center. Nothing unique about that. The Galaxy forward has almost as many plaques and trophies as he has goals, and he’s scored 501 of those.

What makes this one a little different is the fact it’s coming from the Swedish-American Chamber of Commerce.

The son of immigrant parents from the Balkans, the Swedish-born Ibrahimovic has talked frequently about how he felt marginalized growing up in a housing project. He recently accused the Swedish media of “undercover racism” against him because he doesn’t have blond hair, blue eyes and a Swedish surname.

As a result, he said, Saturday’s award carries extra meaning.

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“This is me representing the new Sweden,” he said after training Thursday. “I have a different background [because of] my parents, but I’m Swedish. I represent Sweden wherever I go.”

Due to relatively relaxed asylum and immigration policies and a strong economy, Sweden’s share of foreign-born residents has grown to more than 18% since 2000, according to government figures, making its population the most diverse of any Nordic country.

“This is who we are and this is how it is,” Ibrahimovic continued. “It’s 2018 and everybody should accept and deal with it. I represent the new generation of Sweden that came from the same background like me.”

Mathilde Frykhammar, the marketing manager for the Swedish-American Chamber of Commerce of Los Angeles, the largest organization of its type in the U.S., said the decision to give Ibrahimovic the Eliason Merit Award had nothing to do with politics.

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LA Galaxy forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic (9) celebrates his goal against the Seattle Sounders in the fir
Galaxy forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic celebrates a goal against Seattle on Sept. 23.
(Reed Saxon / Associated Press)

“He’s a legend for us,” Frykhammar said. “People can always feel different when you live in certain places. But he really found his confidence on the soccer field.

“We’ve always been very proud of his achievements and he’s always been a proud Swede.”

The private awards ceremony will take place before Saturday’s game, a match in which Ibrahimovic will have a chance to add to his legend. The Galaxy entered the weekend three points behind Seattle in the battle for the Western Conference’s sixth and final playoff berth with four games left and they can’t afford to lose any of them.

“We know we have to win every game to even have a chance,” captain Ashley Cole said.

Ibrahimovic has been instrumental in keeping the team in the playoff hunt, scoring his team-leading 18th goal and adding his team-leading ninth assist in last week’s win over the Sounders. The game marked the team’s best performance — and first shutout — in 2½ months and improved the Galaxy’s record to 7-2-3 in games in which Ibrahimovic scores.

Vancouver, one point behind the Galaxy heading into their match Saturday, is also in the playoff race and both teams are now playing under interim coaches. The Galaxy fired Sigi Schmid, replacing him with top assistant Dominic Kinnear, on Sept. 10 while the Whitecaps sacked coach Carl Robinson and three assistants last Tuesday.

Craig Dalrymple, technical director for the Whitecaps academy, will manage the team Saturday.

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Ibrahimovic agreed the Galaxy have no margin for error, but added the team is definitely playoff caliber.

“I don’t see any other teams better than us,” he said. “For me, every game is like a final.”

kevin.baxter@latimes.com | Twitter: @kbaxter11


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