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Zlatan Ibrahimovic draws Ronaldo and Messi comparisons amid hot start

Zlatan Ibrahimovic draws Ronaldo and Messi comparisons amid hot start
Galaxy star Zlatan Ibrahimovic celebrates after scoring a goal against the Vancouver Whitecaps on April 5. (Darryl Dyck / Associated Press)

Guillermo Barros Schelotto has coached and played with some exceptional players in his soccer career. But when the Galaxy manager was asked about his current captain, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, there were really only two points of comparison.

“Everyone knows when you play against [Cristiano] Ronaldo or [Lionel] Messi what they are,” Schelotto said Wednesday. “I feel the same with Ibra. He makes something [happen]. Like Ronaldo and like Messi.”

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Ibrahimovic’s name was mentioned in the same breath as Messi and Ronaldo often when the three were the top goal scorers in Europe. Messi and Ronaldo are still there but Ibrahimovic is in his second season in the U.S.

“I was a different animal,” said the man who calls himself the lion. “Now I’m another animal, just a bit older.”

Thirty-seven to be precise, making him the oldest outfield player in the league and one just two years removed from reconstructive knee surgery. Given the way he’s played since coming to MLS, however, perhaps Schelotto’s analogy is relevant again.

Ibrahimovic goes into Friday’s home game with the unbeaten Houston Dynamo (4-0-1) tied for second in MLS with six goals despite missing two games with an Achilles tendon strain. He’s scored in nine of his last 10 starts dating to last season and has 28 goals in 31 games overall.

Only five players in league history have scored more in their first 34 games, the length of the MLS season. Add in his one assist and Ibrahimovic has had a hand in seven of the Galaxy’s 11 goals this season, including the game winner in four of his team’s five victories.

That’s already inspired talk that Ibrahimovic is the league MVP despite the fact the season is just seven weeks old – talk Ibrahimovic jokingly dismissed not as premature but as unnecessary.

“You don’t need a trophy to feel MVP,” he said with a smile. “I am the MVP without having the MVP.”

The Galaxy (5-1-0) go into Friday’s game third in the league with 15 points and off to their best start since 2010. Their last loss at home came in the final game of 2018 when Houston rallied from a two-goal halftime deficit for a 3-2 win that knocked the Galaxy out of the playoffs.

Goalkeeper David Bingham, who pitched shutouts in the last two games and hasn’t allowed a goal in 226 minutes, said he’s not as interested in avenging last season’s loss as he is in keeping this season’s hot streak going against one of MLS’ two remaining unbeaten teams.

“Last year’s done,” he said. “It doesn’t help to dwell on the past. We’re just looking to move up the table and stay undefeated at home.”

The Galaxy will have to make at least one change on the back line Friday since right back Rolf Feltscher is out with a groin strain. Schelotto said teenager Julian Araujo could start in Feltscher’s place but with Giancarlo Gonzalez, a two-time World Cup player from Costa Rica, completing his international transfer paperwork Friday, he is also be a candidate to play.

“I feel good physically and mentally to help the team accomplishment our objectives,” Gonzalez said in Spanish. “I’m really happy to be here.

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