Zlatan Ibrahimovic

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WATCH: Zlatan on scene as Malmo unveils 9-foot Ibrahimovic statue

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic is so humble, it must’ve really bothered him to see a shirtless statue of himself in his hometown.

Of course, we kid; The mega striker, whose skills are only topped by his confidence, loves the darn thing.

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Fair Malmo is our scene, where the 38-year-old oversaw the unveiling of a nearly 9-foot statue of the well-traveled champion.

Ibrahimovic has 52 goals in 56 matches for the LA Galaxy, who open the MLS Cup Playoffs on Oct. 20 in Minnesota.

Sweden’s all-time leading scorer with 62 goals in 116 caps, Ibrahimovic has won league titles in Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and  France. He’s also been named the Swedish Male Athlete of the Year on four occasions.

The impossible annual task of choosing an MLS Best XI

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Forget about a functional XI when you’re putting together an MLS Best XI.

That’s true in most leagues, to be fair, but the offensive firepower in MLS puts up gaudy numbers as silky attackers are given a bit more free reign than their used to in previous leagues.

Consider that two players eclipsed the 30-goal mark in Carlos Vela and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, with the latter doing it in under 30 matches. Josef Martinez also came close in 29 matches.

[ MORE: MLS Cup Playoff Power Rankings ]

Those players are enough to form a trident for your Best XI, and they come from loaded units.

Then there’s midfielder Maxi Moralez of NYCFC with his 20 assists in 2434 minutes.

Vela had double digit goals and assists, an achievement met by Carles Gil (New England), Alejandero Pozuelo (Toronto), and Nani (Orlando City).

They all can’t make it.

So we’ll build from the back, and likely punish the fullbacks thanks to a remarkable group of attackers.

Here is who is getting my vote.

Goalkeeper

The backstop is always a tricky choice. Bill Hamid and Brad Guzan led the league in clean sheets with 14, but only the former will warrant consideration here. The Galaxy’s David Bingham led the league in saves and saves inside the box, while also stopping a pair of penalties.

Both join Portland’s Steve Clark, Vancouver’s Maxime Crepeau, and New England’s Matt Turner as advanced stat darlings.

For me it comes down to Hamid and Bingham. The former had far superior defenders, but I can’t get past DC United’s 38 goals allowed to the Galaxy’s 59. Maybe it’s the hockey fan in me thinking of it like the Jennings Award, but that’s my tiebreaker.

Defender

I’m gonna start with DC again here, and the Black-and-Red have two players deserving of a place: Frederic Brillant and Steve Birnbaum.

Here’s why I’m opting for the latter: On the SofaScore list of the Top 20 rated defenders in MLS, minimum 25 games, all but two were dribbled past 11 times or more: Orlando’s Lamine Sane and Birnbaum.

Birnbaum’s number? Two.

You read that right. In 3032 minutes this season, he was taken twice.

Other contenders include:

— Ike Opara, who had another remarkable season and didn’t miss a beat in switching from Sporting KC to Minnesota.

Bastian Schweinsteiger in Chicago dropped from the center of the park and was very strong.

— Miles Robinson of Atlanta was exceptional, especially given his age, while Ryan Hollingshead had the best advanced statistical season of any back on WhoScored. Jorge Moreira gets that nod on SofaScore. And spare a thought for Keegan Rosenberry, who intercepted 16 more passes than anyone else in MLS (82) but still can’t get a call from the USMNT.

Everybody else

We named the prime attackers in MLS at the top of this post. You’d like to add Nicolas Lodeiro and Diego Valeri.

Eduard Atuesta and Mark-Anthony Kaye from LAFC have been difference makers behind Vela. In-beom Hwang was marvelous more often than not but on a terrible Vancouver team.

But there’s one name I believe qualifies as the least-heralded star in MLS.

Minnesota United’s Jan Gregus needs to be on this team. I don’t think he will because his goal and eight assists don’t pop off the page and the Slovakian national team doesn’t get as much love as center midfield partner and well-established bulldog Osvaldo Alonso.

Gregus was fifth in MLS in interceptions with 1.9 per match, 2.2 key passes, and crafts an awfully nice looking long pass. You could argue that he was the key to Minnesota’s fourth seed.

The Best XI

So here’s my team. We’d be destroyed out wide, but would probably score 10 goals a game so man would we entertain?

Bill Hamid (DC)

Robinson (ATL) — Birnbaum (DC) — Opare (MIN)

Gregus (MIN) — Atuesta (LAFC)

Lodeiro (SEA) — Moralez (NYCFC)

Vela (LAFC) — Ibrahimovic (LAG) — Martinez (ATL)

Bench: Bingham (LAG), Brillant (DC), Gil (NE), Pozuelo (TOR), Przyzbylko (PHI), Valeri (POR), Schweinsteiger (CHI)

FOLLOW LIVE: Timbers v. Quakes, Dallas v. SKC on Decision Day

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It’s Decision Day and, as always, the stakes are high for a handful of teams and players.

[ FOLLOW: MLS Decision Day scoreboard ]

In the Western Conference, the San Jose Earthquakes travel to Providence Park to take on a Brian Fernandez and Diego Valeri-less Portland Timbers. A win for either side earns them a ticket into MLS Cup playoffs.

Over in Texas, FC Dallas, too, control their own destiny. If Luchi Gonzalez and company earn a win against a struggling Sporting Kansas City, they’ll clinch their way into MLS’ big party.

The Golden Boot is for the taking, with only a goal separating Carlos Vela and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Vela and LAFC host the Colorado Rapids led by Tim Howard, who plays his final game of an illustrious career. Zlatan and LA Galaxy travel to Houston to take on the Dynamo, who say goodbye to their captain, DaMarcus Beasley.

Decision Day’s full schedule

FC Dalla v. Sporting Kansas City — 4 p.m. ET

LAFC  v. Colorado Rapids — 4 p.m. ET

Portland Timbers v. San Jose Earthquakes — 4 p.m. ET

Orlando City v. Chicago Fire — 4 p.m. ET

Vancouver Whitecaps v. Real Salt Lake — 4 p.m. ET

D.C. United v. FC Cincinatti — 4 p.m. ET

Montreal Impact v. NY Red Bulls — 4 p.m. ET

Toronto FC v. Columbus Crew — 4 p.m. ET

Seattle Sounders v. Minnesota United — 4 p.m. ET

Houston Dynamo v. LA Galaxy — 4 p.m. ET

Philadelphia Union v. NYCFC — 4 p.m. ET

Atlanta United v. New England Revolution — 4 p.m. ET

MLS Decision Day Preview: Quakes, Timbers battle it out; Vela, Zlatan go for Golden Boot

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In the Western Conference, four teams fight one last time for two playoff spots, while Carlos Vela and Zlatan Ibrahimovic – two goals apart from one another – go toe-to-toe for the league’s Golden Boot. Now, that’s a Decision Day that will keep everyone on the edge of their seats.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Portland Timbers vs. San Jose Earthquakes: Unlike the Portland Timbers, the San Jose Earthquakes were hit with a major distraction midweek ahead of their most important game of the year: Matias Almeyda’s rumored move to Monterrey. After the rumors made its rounds in Mexico and then stateside, the Northern Californian club decided to release a statement, which denied any contact from the Liga MX club and San Jose.

Amidst all of the disturbance, Almeyda and company assured that they’re going for the win in what is a win-and-your-are-in scenario.

“We put ourselves in a huge opportunity, a good opportunity, and I think that it’s a phenomenal environment and we’re going to go get the job done and how this group knows how to,” Quakes’ fullback Nick Lima said midweek. “It’s exciting.”

The Timbers, who can still clinch with a loss if Dallas losses to draws, is approaching Sunday’s game at Providence Park with the same, winning mindset.

“It’s a must win. That’s all it is,” said Portland defender Zarek Valentin. “The focus starts now because we know that we control our own destiny in terms of winning and getting in and that’s all you can ask for at the end of the year. Obviously, we wish we could be a little bit higher, but we believe in ourselves and luckily it’s in our hands. We’ve just got to get out there, get some points and get in the playoffs.”

This year’s Decision Day – with the Eastern Conference playoff bracket set – may lack playoff implications, but the Quakes and Timbers matchup makes up for it.

FC Dallas vs. Sporting Kansas City:  Following a bumpy season, FC Dallas controls its own destiny heading into Sunday in what has been its first year under coach Luchi Gonzalez. Their scenario, too, is pretty simple: win and you’re in.

A home game against a surprise playoff absentee Sporting Kansas City stands in their way, but like many other teams in the league at this stage of the competition, Dallas are already in playoff mode.

“The way we’re looking at it from here on out is there’s five games to win an MLS Cup – something that the club doesn’t have on the shelf yet,” first-year head coach Gonzalez said this week. “And we’re really excited to play this first game of five to try to take the next step in the pursuit of an MLS Cup. That’s our focus.”

LAFC vs. Colorado Rapids: The Colorado Rapids, who have been on a hot streak since the takeover of Robin Fraser, are, mathematically, still in the playoff hunt. The likelihood of them clinching, however, stand at less than one percent, according to FIveThirtyEight.

What is a real possibility is Carlos Vela being presented with the league’s Golden Boot. LAFC’s captains goal count is at 31 – one shy of breaking Josef Martinez’s single-season record and two ahead of Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s 29 goals.

That said, it wasn’t Vela leading the headlines ahead of Sunday, but Zlatan, who claimed the only reason he’s behind the Mexican’s count is because he’s featured in less games this season.

“I have 29 goals in 28 games,” the 38-year-old Swedish striker said. “If I would have the same amount (of) games like the other ones, it would be different.”

“But now I’m chasing someone that has more games than me,” he added ahead of LA Galaxy’s game against the Houston Dynamo. “But if we score we score, we’ll have to see what the end number will be. We’ll see. If there still is a possibility, we’ll try.”

Decision Day’s full schedule

FC Dalla v. Sporting Kansas City — 4 p.m. ET

LAFC  v. Colorado Rapids — 4 p.m. ET

Portland Timbers v. San Jose Earthquakes — 4 p.m. ET

Orlando City v. Chicago Fire — 4 p.m. ET

Vancouver Whitecaps v. Real Salt Lake — 4 p.m. ET

D.C. United v. FC Cincinatti — 4 p.m. ET

Montreal Impact v. NY Red Bulls — 4 p.m. ET

Toronto FC v. Columbus Crew — 4 p.m. ET

Seattle Sounders v. Minnesota United — 4 p.m. ET

Houston Dynamo v. LA Galaxy — 4 p.m. ET

Philadelphia Union v. NYCFC — 4 p.m. ET

Atlanta United v. New England Revolution — 4 p.m. ET

Vela equals single-season MLS goalscoring record, Zlatan in hunt

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Carlos Vela equalled the Major League Soccer single-season scoring record with his 31st strike of the season as LAFC drew with Minnesota United on Sunday.

In the 70th minute of a scoreless match that saw the visitors dominate possession at Allianz Field, Vela blasted a left-footed strike that looped inside the far post. The strike gave LAFC the lead and eventually – along with the NYCFC loss – secured the Supporters’ Shield.

The goal matched the single-season record of 31 goals set by Atlanta United’s Josef Martinez last season.

Minnesota was able to muster an immediate response and level the score just five minutes later in the eventual 1-1 draw, but it wouldn’t matter as LAFC completed its regular season quest, topping the Western Conference by a massive 16-point margin and leaving them eight points clear of NYCFC for the Supporters’ Shield.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic also remains in the hunt for the goalscoring record, remaining three back of Vela’s total with an early strike in the LA Galaxy’s wild 4-3 home loss to Vancouver. Zlatan tied up the score at one-all as he poked home Cristian Pavon’s cut cross that reached the Swedish international at the penalty spot.

The goal put Ibra on 29 for the season, two behind Vela’s total. Despite just having one match to go to catch his cross-town rival, it would be silly to count out Ibrahimovic who would need a hat-trick to pass Vela and set the record all on his own.

With the single-season goalscoring record on the line next weekend as the season wraps up, LAFC will host the Colorado Rapids while the Galaxy travel to the Houston Dynamo. The Rapids have conceded 60 goals this season in 42 matches, the second-worst defensive record in the West and third-words in the league. Houston has also struggled defensively, with 57 goals conceded this campaign.