It’s never a good idea to bet against Ibrahimovic, even when he makes some of his more egregious claims. After all, he’s the only player to win 13 domestic championships across four different leagues, and he’s the oldest player to ever score 15 goals in the English Premier League (17 at age 35 in the 2016-17 season). But instead of setting every MLS record like he forecasted, Ibrahimovic will settle for the Golden Boot in 2019. Last season, only Atlanta United’s Josef Martinez (0.96) averaged more goals per 90 minutes than Ibrahimovic (0.92), with the next closest scoring rate at 0.71. Martinez ended up setting the MLS single-season goal-scoring record with 31, but Ibrahimovic started in 10 fewer games. Using goals per game, Ibrahimovic would have been on pace for 27 goals had he played a full season, placing his actual production much closer to Martinez’s lofty total. Given how close they really were in 2018, I expect that Martinez and Ibrahimovic will be neck-and-neck for the Golden Boot this season. However, Ibrahimovic enters the season off of three months of rest, while Martinez endured a lengthy MLS Cup Playoff run. Ultimately, this will make a difference in whether or not Ibrahimovic will successfully add the Golden Boot and MLS MVP to his extensive list of accolades.LAFC wins the Supporters’ Shield as the MLS’s top regular season club In the Los Angeles sports scene, 2018 marked a banner year for professional soccer. The surging Los Angeles Football Club exceeded expectations in its inaugural season, finishing third in the MLS Western Conference standings. Meanwhile, 12 miles south in Carson, Calif., the self-proclaimed “G.O.A.T.” Zlatan Ibrahimovic singlehandedly dragged the rest of his LA Galaxy teammates to the playoffs. The 37-year-old striker scored a scintillating 22 goals in his groundbreaking debut on American soil.In 2018, the Major League Soccer undoubtedly made strides in Los Angeles. The city proved it could support two teams — one buoyed by an aging legend with magic left in the tank and another powered by youth and grassroots enthusiasm. For LAFC and LA Galaxy, quality play on the pitch was met with reward, as both teams were ranked in the top ten highest MLS attendance for 2018. Neither club is going anywhere, which is fantastic news for Los Angeles soccer fans. LAFC will attempt to follow in the footsteps of Atlanta United FC, a club that won the most-recent MLS Cup in its second-year of existence. On the other hand, LA Galaxy signed Ibrahimovic to an extension in December, despite reports of mutual interest in a return to Europe. That in itself is enough to designate it as the most compelling team in the United States. “This season, I will bring something for you,” Ibrahimovic said, using his typical, I-am-your-savior rhetoric. “I am looking to break every record in the MLS this season.” With the MLS regular season set to kick off on March 2, here are five Zlatan-sized predictions that will actually come true: Zlatan leads the MLS in scoring and is named MVP LAFC stays on the come-up for aforementioned reasons and LA Galaxy flourishes with a full season of Ibrahimovic. I don’t expect the Galaxy to dominate the regular season, given the team’s organizational turmoil and defensive holes. At the same time, I don’t see Ibrahimovic missing the postseason two years in a row. He’ll be a man on a mission this year, and once he reaches the playoffs, he’ll score more than 5 goals to carry the Galaxy to their first Western Conference Finals berth since 2014. But…Atlanta United wins its second-straight MLS Cup OK, so Supporter’s Shield isn’t exactly the biggest deal — the trophy matters for about a month until the MLS Cup Champion is crowned in the playoffs. It’d be like if the Los Angeles Rams and New Orleans Saints got awards for finishing with league-best records of 13-3 in the NFL regular season. Much like in the NFL, the MLS playoffs are a much different ballgame than the regular season. Of the last seven Supporters’ Shield winners, just one — Toronto FC in 2017 — also went on to win the MLS Cup. Still, a Supporter’s Shield trophy would be massive for LAFC, a club still in its infancy. It’s also fully within their reach in 2019. Despite exiting in the first round of the playoffs last year, LAFC scored the second-most goals (68) in the regular season and produced the second-most shots on goal (204), proving the sustainability of manager Bob Bradley’s attacking game plan, which he simply dubs “good football.” With the addition of Spanish-league goalkeeper Pablo Sisniega and the return of defensive midfielder Eduard Atuesta, LAFC will make a defensive leap in 2019. Coupled with its lethal scoring output, I expect LAFC to solidify itself as the MLS’s best team in the regular season. LAFC and LA Galaxy meet in the MLS Western Conference Finals While LAFC and LA Galaxy will meet in the Western Conference Finals, Atlanta United will ultimately repeat as MLS Cup Champions. The club lost its engine, midfielder Miguel Almiron, to the brighter pastures of the English Premier League, but they retained Martinez and added creative midfielder Pity Martinez by way of Argentina. These moves will help Atlanta overcome the LAFC in a tight MLS Cup Final. LAFC will gain valuable playoff experience in the process and continue winning over Angelenos’ hearts. Trevor Denton is a junior writing about sports. His column, “T-Time,” runs every other Wednesday.
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