BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – Since his arrival in MLS last March, Bastian Schweinsteiger has been advocating for former Manchester United teammate Zlatan Ibrahimovic to join him on this side of the Atlantic Ocean for one final challenge in a glittering career.
While the LA Galaxy were the big winners when the colorful Swede signed with the club last month, teams throughout MLS are sure to reap the rewards of his allure among North American soccer fans anxious to catch a glimpse of the world-class striker.
Now the pair will met up at a sold-out Toyota Park on Saturday (3:30 pm ET | Univision, Twitter in US), for the first time since Schweinsteiger left Old Trafford for the Chicago Fire last March, and the German World Cup winner is looking forward to reacquainting himself with his old friend.
“Of course,” Schweinsteiger said when asked if he was excited about facing Ibrahimovic on Saturday. “The last time I saw him was at United. I’m very happy for him that he came over to Los Angeles and to MLS. It’s a great signing for the league and I’m happy for him and will be glad to see him.”
In typical Zlatan style, Ibrahimovic made the most dramatic of introductions to life in MLS with a stunning two-goal salvo to help the Galaxy recover from 3-0 down to beat new local rivals LAFC 4-3, equalizing with a long-range blast that would later win AT&T Goal of the Week before capping an audacious substitute’s performance with a game-winning headed goal in injury time.
Speaking affectionately about the well-travelled Swedish international this week, Schweinsteiger admitted he and his Fire teammates will have to be at their very best if they are to stop “Ibra” from wreaking more havoc in front of a full house at Toyota Park.
“He is always very hard to defend,” Schweinsteiger said. “I know him since a long time ago, I remember games where he was playing for Juventus in the Olympic Stadium in Munich, so he’s very difficult to play. He’s obviously one of the best strikers in the world, he’s still very important for every team and you can already see that in the games [for LA].”
Despite his knowledge of Ibrahimovic and some of the intricacies of his game, Schweinsteiger suggested there was not much he could do to prepare his Fire teammates for what lies in store for them this weekend.
“I’ve tried to give them some advice, but at the end of the day you have always to see how he is in the situations,” he said. “Zlatan is a very smart player and he has not only one option, he has always three options in his brain. He is very fast in his brain and in his technique and everything, so it’s going to be tough and we have to play as a team against him. But there are also other players who are very good for the Galaxy team and we will have to focus.”
Widely regarded as one of the greatest players of the 21st century, Ibrahimovic’s renowned fitness and physique has allowed him to remain at the top of his game into his 37th year, despite coming off a knee injury that sidelined him for almost seven months last year. It is one of the characteristics that the German admires most in the 36-year-old former Malmo, Ajax, Juventus, Inter Milan, Barcelona, AC Milan, Paris Saint-Germain and Man United striker.
“We have a good relationship,” Schweinsteiger said. “We respect each other a lot and I admire him because in his age, to be so fit like him, that is not easy. He is doing something for that fitness level which he has and also his quality, never gives up, he is always fighting and wants to show that he is the best and I admire that kind of player with that mindset.”
After answering several questions about Ibrahimovic, Schweinsteiger exited the media room with a joke to reporters about the lack of questions about the rest of the Galaxy. With stars like Giovani and Jonathan dos Santos, Romain Alessandrini and Ola Kamara around to capitalize on the chaos that Ibrahimovic’s presence produces, he had a point.
One way or the other, Saturday promises more fireworks as the Zlatan/LA roadshow rolls into the Windy City for the first time.