Galaxy coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto was 90 minutes late to his own news conference Wednesday. And when he finally showed up, he had one ground rule: No questions about the status of team captain Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
So naturally the first four questions were about Ibrahimovic, whose contract expires next month.
“We don’t know yet what will happen,” Schelotto said. “We can talk about a lot of things with Ibra, but the reality is we don’t know yet. So we need to wait.”
That wait may not be long though. MLS teams have just two weeks to exercise contract options, essentially setting the core of their rosters for next season. And the Galaxy can’t make any decisions about that without first knowing about Ibrahimovic, who would need a designated-player spot and a significant raise from his league-record $7.2-million contract to be coaxed back.
“We’re not moving forward until we sit down with him and see where he’s at,” general manager Dennis te Kloese said. “A player of his impact, in both the league and our club, deserves all the respect in the world to first sit down with him and see where he’s at.”
Ibrahimovic scored a club-record 30 goals this season, leading the Galaxy to their first postseason appearance since 2016. But he appeared to burn the narrow bridge linking him to MLS after the team’s playoff loss to LAFC when he motioned to a fan by grabbing his crotch as he left the field. He then trashed the league in postgame comments with the media.
Ibrahimovic may also have worn out his welcome with some teammates, who have reportedly grown tired of his on-field criticism and demonstrative gestures when passes don’t come his way.
Te Kloese insisted publicly he had no idea which way Ibrahimovic was leaning. The player confirmed last month he has received several offers to return to Europe and people close to him believe he is genuinely torn over his next move. While he and his family like Southern California, at 38 Ibrahimovic isn’t sure how many years he has left and there have been rumors he’d like to finish his career with Sweden’s Malmo or with Ajax of the Dutch Eredivisie, the first two professional clubs he played for.
“Now it gets to the point that we start a formal conversation,” Te Kloese said. “Before throwing anything out that I think would be adventurous, I’d rather sit down and have a conversation.”
Asked if he’d like to have Ibrahimovic back, Te Kloese answered cryptically.
“Who wouldn’t want Ibra?” he said.
The decision over Ibrahimovic’s future is the biggest one Te Kloese must deal with, but it’s not the only one. The team has already cut ties with Jorgen Skjelvik, the league’s second-highest-paid defender at $1.066 million, and has agreed on a trade to send Dave Romney to Nashville.
The Galaxy could also lose Uriel Antuna, who is on loan from England’s Manchester City. The midfielder has drawn interest from teams in Mexico and may also have a suitor in Portugal: If the Galaxy don’t match what those clubs are offering, City is likely to take the richest deal.
A loan extension or purchase must also be worked on for Argentine winger Favio Alvarez, and Te Kloese declined to say Wednesday whether the team would pick up the option on defender Diego Polenta. Also out of contract are midfielders Sebastian Lletget and Roman Alessandrini and defender Daniel Steres, who led all outfield players in starts and minutes played.
Getting all those players back and staying under the MLS salary cap, which was $4.24 million this season, will be difficult -- especially if Ibrahimovic returns.
“We have a certain amount of options. We have a certain amount of loans to discuss and assess,” Te Kloese said. “There will be some changes with our roster, yes.
“In the end it is a big puzzle.”
Among those under contract for next season are midfielders Joe Corona, Perry Kitchen and Jonathan dos Santos, goalkeeper David Bingham and winger Cristian Pavon.
Key dates in the MLS offseason schedule
Nov. 11: Trade window opens.
Nov. 13: Trade window closes.
Nov. 14: Deadline to make contract extension offers to players.
Nov. 19: Expansion draft with Inter Miami and Nashville selecting as many as five players each, only one of which can come off an existing team.
Nov. 21: Deadline for clubs to exercise contract options.
Nov. 22: List of free agents are released. Free-agency eligible players are out-of-contract and option-declined players who are at least 28 and have a minimum of eight years of MLS service time.
Jan. 31, 2020: Collective Bargaining Agreement between MLS and MLS Players Association expires.
Late Febuary: MLS regular season opens