A victory over the Loons not only would mark the Galaxy’s first road playoff win since the 2012 Western Conference semifinals against San Jose, but it would advance the five-time Cup champions to a much-anticipated showdown with Los Angeles FC on October 24 at Banc of California Stadium.
There also is the fact a loss could mark Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s final appearance in a Galaxy uniform. The 38-year-old striker’s one-year, $7 million contract is up at the end of this year, and the Swedish standout isn’t letting on as far as his future intentions.
“Could be. Could be,” he told reporters when he was asked if Sunday’s game might be his Galaxy finale should the team lose. “I have a contract until December 31, I think it is. Until then, there is no other thought.
“I respect my contract, and if I leave, you will have less to write about. If I stay, you will still have something to write about. Let’s see what happens.”
And what could determine the chances for him to return for another season? He played coy with that line of questioning, too.
“A lot of things, a lot of things,” he said. “But let’s focus on the playoffs. I think it’s not the right thing to discuss. Being respectful to my club and my team, it’s not the moment to think about it.”
Galaxy head coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto chose not to get into the debate.
“This is not the moment to talk about it,” he said. “We need to focus now on the next game. For him, for me, for the team, it’s very important to try to beat Minnesota.”
The Galaxy, making their first post-season appearance since 2016, will be taking on a dangerous Minnesota United side that surprisingly tied Real Salt Lake for third in the West (behind LAFC and Seattle) and equaled FC Dallas for the conference’s best home record, 10-1-6. Only New York City FC, at 11-1-5, was better at home this season.
Minnesota, which tied the Galaxy 0-0 on April 24 at a just-opened Allianz Field — Ibrahimovic lamented the field was “not 100 percent” — also hasn’t been beaten at home since June 2, when it fell to Philadelphia 3-2. Making matters worse is the Galaxy are a paltry 1-8-1 in their last ten matches away from Dignity Health Sports Park, with that lone win coming September 25 against Real Salt Lake and giving them their long-sought playoff berth.
Speaking of playoffs, Ibrahimovic earlier this season expressed his distaste for the league’s post-season setup. He didn’t change his opinion on Thursday when speaking with members of the media.
“I never said I don’t like it,” he said of the MLS Cup playoffs, which this year features a single-game elimination format. “I don’t agree with it. Now we’re in the playoffs, a different mindset, a win-or-lose game, so we work hard, we are focused, we play away.
“I think it will be a good game for the fans, for us, for Minnesota, for everybody.”
Ibrahimovic called the Loons, led by Darwin Quintero’s ten goals and Jan Gregus’ 12 assists, a “good team.”
“That’s why they’re in the playoffs,” he said. “They had a good season, and we know what we need to do to win the game.
“But, it’s easy to say.”
It was announced earlier this week that Ibrahimovic had the best-selling jersey in MLS for the second consecutive season.
The rest of the top five included, in order, Atlanta United’s Josef Martinez, LAFC’s Carlos Vela, D.C. United’s Wayne Rooney, and the Chicago Fire’s Bastian Schweinsteiger, who recently announced his retirement.
Ibrahimovic was asked what makes him so popular.
“I’m just being myself,” he said. “Being popular is not something you choose. I think it’s natural. If you are good at what you are doing and people like it or dislike it, they’ll still buy the shirt.
“But I wish I had 50 percent of it,” he went on with a grin.
These are not the best of times for the U.S. men’s national team, which is struggling under new head coach Gregg Berhalter and just lost to Canada for the first time in 34 years.
The Galaxy’s Sebastian Lletget, who has made 12 appearances with the national team, is preaching patience.
“It’s been what, nine or ten months since he’s taken over,” he said of Berhalter. “There’s been some good parts and some bad parts, but I think it’s not just one person’s fault. It’s the group’s.
“We’re in it together. In our own way, we are progressing; that’s our mentality. OK, it didn’t go our way this time, but we just have to stick with it.”
Lletget said he understood the criticism coming the team’s way.
“Of course, people are always impatient with the U.S. national team,” he said. “I know they want results and things of that nature, but we want to change the entire game.
“It’s not that we just want to win. We’ve got to be behind the coach. We can’t just throw it all out over one game or two games.”