By Luis Bueno – RIVERSIDE, CA (Sep 26, 2018) US Soccer Players - When the LA Galaxy landed Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the move generated excitement and wonder. LA welcomed the world-renowned striker with open arms as the club and the city embraced the self-proclaimed Lion.
While the Galaxy hasn't recovered its former glory, Zlatan has been as amazing as advertised. In just 23 games, Ibrahimovic has scored 18 goals, more than a few of the eye-popping variety. A poor defense though has kept him from making an even bigger impact on the team.
The season is still somewhat in the balance. There is an outside chance of the Galaxy reaching the postseason. However, the next dropped point in the standings will have fans thinking about next year. That future may or may not include Ibrahimovic.
“I don't know," Ibrahimovic told reporters about his future. "This I have to discuss. This is not the moment to talk about that. It’s something I’ll discuss with the club. What they want I want. So let’s see.”
The club wants to get back to dominating the league. The club also wants name players leading the way back to prominence. Ibrahimovic then seems like a natural fit for the team. However, the best way forward for the Galaxy and Ibrahimovic is if the two part ways. As strong as he has been this season, the team’s greatest needs are elsewhere on the roster.
If Ibrahimovic is wavering in his desire to remain here, it seems like the club needs to do something to keep him around. While Ibrahimovic is under contract and that should be enough to have him stay, the club may need to reach out to him and offer him something else to help Ibrahimovic feel positive about sticking around for next year.
Money is always an issue. The pay difference between what Ibrahimovic made with Manchester United and what he makes in LA is massive. The Galaxy can do little about that in a league with tight financial controls that could be growing even tighter.
Ibrahimovic is not one of the Galaxy’s three Designated Players. Those labels - and hefty salaries that come with it - belong to Giovani Dos Santos who earns $6 million per year, Jonathan Dos Santos at $2m, and Romain Alessandrini at $1.87m. Paying Ibrahimovic more money would mean the Galaxy would have to either jettison one of the three DPs or re-work one of the existing DP’s contract. All three have deals through next season at least, which means that a spot will not open up.
A reorganization of the roster isn't out of the question, but the Galaxy has invested considerable money in what they have. The roster centers around the Dos Santos brothers. Giovani Dos Santos came aboard while Bruce Arena was still in charge. If current interim coach Dominic Kinnear does not land the job full-time, then Dos Santos will have outlasted four coaches. That looks like proof that the club will stick with Dos Santos no matter what.
Alessandrini might seem expendable in theory, but he was dynamic during the 2017 season. Only injuries have kept him from having a similar impact this season. Alessandrini is a star and well worth the money the Galaxy pay him. Getting rid of a fan favorite would send the wrong message to the supporters even if it means keeping Ibrahimovic around.
At this point, it already seems like the Galaxy is throwing good money at bad all over the roster and payroll in general. They're paying two former coaches. The money they've spent on players like Michael Ciani, Joao Pedro, and Jorgen Skjelvik wasn't wise. Going all in on the attack might not have been either.
Schmid, let go earlier this month, said at several times during the summer that he would have loved to have brought in defensive reinforcements during the summer transfer window but the team did not have the resources to do so. Had the Galaxy been able to hold onto home leads against Colorado and Minnesota in early August, that could have been the difference in securing a playoff spot.
The Galaxy took just two of six points from those two games, settling for 2-2 draws when victories were within reach. With those four extra points, the Galaxy would be in a tie with Real Salt Lake in 5th-place in the Western Conference. Instead, the Galaxy sits in 7th-place and need to collect at least seven points from the final four games of the season to have a chance. Next season might look a lot like this one if they can't figure out the defense. Spending to keep what is already on the roster around may hamper yet another rebuild. Throw in the uncertainty of the coaching staff and what a potential coach search may yield. It's now anyone’s guess where that direction goes.
If Ibrahimovic is willing to see out his existing contract, then this might all be a moot point. If he isn't satisfied, then the Galaxy face a decision. A return to glory might require the sacrificing of a lion.
Luis Bueno is a veteran soccer writer. Follow him on twitter @BuenoSoccer.
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Photo by Michael Janosz - ISIPhotos.com