The Goal That Changed MLS

Major League Soccer was cruising along so nicely. We’d finally reached MLS 4.0 (or whatever version we’re on now). Teams were signing young designated players, academy players were being promoted and playing meaningful minutes, attacking soccer was on display, and fans were complaining less. Then on a sunny Saturday afternoon in Carson, California, Sebastian Lletget scored a goal that changed MLS forever.

The first iteration of “El Trafico” looked to be over. New boys LAFC had a commanding 3-0 lead in the second half, showing off their young stars and silencing their crosstown rivals. The Galaxy had their new TAM signing on the bench but down three, what was the point in playing him? He was probably too tired anyway, too old, too injured. Then Servando Carrasco won a ball in the LAFC end and played Lletget. Da Boy beat Tyler Miller and the Galaxy were on the scoresheet. They had a chance. A point was now possible. Enter Zlatan. And exit MLS as we knew it.

You know what happened after that. Zlatan scored a laser from somewhere near the Pacific Ocean then won the match in stoppage time. Yes, that Zlatan. The 36 year old forward coming off a knee injury. All those young signings, Ezequiel Barco, psh. The Galaxy just trumped the league with a guy coming off major surgery. This is MLS 1.0 at its finest. Who need a flashy, young South American when you can sign a guy in his mid-30s whose European career is at its end? No need to scout Central and South America for hidden gems. We can find guys who Premier League teams are done with.

But, who cares, right? If the Galaxy want to use a Designated Player spot on a guy like that, let them. But that’s just it, they didn’t use a DP spot, they signed Zlatan with TAM. The Galaxy signed Zlatan Ibrahimovic with Targeted Allocation Money. They signed one of the best players of our generation with money supposedly used to bolster a roster with another talented starter. They added one of the greatest goal scorers of the past decade with money the league made up.

Now what? We’re back to the circus that surrounded David Beckham. Zlatan admitted to being tired after his short cameo Saturday, now he’s going to be expected (kindly asked by the league office?) to play in every game, especially the road games. We’re back to hot takes about how a 36 year old could come to MLS and dominate the “minor league”. Back to a team, and the league catering to one player, Zlatan was just named as a suggested candidate for MLS Player of the Month for March. HE PLAYED 19 MINUTES.

Would all this have eventually happened, would the Zlatan circus have begun even if Lletget didn’t score? Maybe, I don’t know. But that goal got the ball rolling. A ball that we have no way of stopping. Make sure you remember your password for your BigSoccer account. Call your cable company to see if you get Fox Soccer Channel. Welcome back to MLS 1.0.