Zlatan is coming to Chester!
For many people, this preview can stop there. Talen Energy Stadium will be full on Saturday. Not because people are excited about the Union. Not because the Los Angeles Galaxy has a large contingent of travelling fans that follow them. Not because people are anticipating an exciting clash between two MLS clubs fighting for a playoff spot.
No, for them, there is only one attraction: a chance to see the best striker of the past 20 years in person, 36-year-old Swedish international Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
The teams that Zlatan has played for form a list of the top football clubs in the Europe: Ajax, Juventus, Inter Milan, AC Milan, Paris Saint-Germain, and Manchester United. In March, he left Man U to join the LA Galaxy. I personally was unenthusiastic about this, as I felt it just perpetuated the image of MLS as a retirement league for European superstars. But despite his age, Zlatan is still playing at a high level, having scored 11 goals in 14 matches in MLS competition. And his old body will be well-rested, as he did not play in the Galaxy’s 3-2 win in New England last week. Galaxy head coach Sigi Schmid has said Zlatan will not play on artificial turf until the playoffs.
But Talen Energy Stadium has a natural grass field, so we can expect Zlatan to be in the starting lineup. Yes, for many people, the preview could have stopped after that first sentence, but there will be other players are on the pitch who are not Zlatan, and those players are all fighting to get their respective teams into the playoffs.
Both teams have played 19 matches. The Galaxy are just above the playoff red line in the Western Conference with 28 points. The Union are just under the red line in the Eastern Conference with 24 points. The Galaxy has a great team on paper, with names on their roster like Romain Alessandrini, Emmanuel Boateng, Ashley Cole, Jonathan and Giovani dos Santos, Ola Kamara, Perry Kitchen, and Sebastian Lleget. They also have former Union winger Chris Pontius, who just scored two goals in last week’s win against the Revs.
Despite those names, the Galaxy have underwhelmed this season with an 8-7-4 record. They started the season slow, but lately have been picking it up, and they will be coming into Chester riding a six-match unbeaten streak. The Union aren’t riding a streak in league play, but they did win their last two competitive matches. Despite a 1-0 score, they dominated Orlando City SC in their U.S. Open Cup match on Wednesday, and they delivered one of the most exciting finishes in franchise history with David Accam scoring the winning goal at the death of the match against Chicago on July 11. The Union are a good team at home with a 5-3-2 record, and hopefully the large crowd will be mostly rooting for them. They have been creating plenty of chances, and if they can figure out how to finish, they could be a formidable team in the second half of the league season. If the Union had Zlatan at striker instead of C.J. Sapong, Cory Burke and Jay Simpson, they could perhaps be unstoppable.
But Zlatan doesn’t play for the Union. This will be a good test for Mark McKenzie and Auston Trusty, who both were rock solid against Orlando City. It might be expecting too much to say they could shut down Zlatan like they shut down Dom Dwyer, but if they play like they did on Wednesday night, they could keep any damage from Zlatan to a minimum. I think we’ll see some goals scored, and I’ll give the edge to the home side. Prediction: Union 3, Galaxy 2.
UPDATE: Somehow I missed this, but both Perry Kitchen and Ashley Cole are suspended for this match. for yellow card accumulation and a red card respectively.