Caldwell calls Zlatan's comments on MLS playoff format 'out of left field'
For the first time in Major League Soccer and, perhaps, for the final time ever, former Manchester United teammates Wayne Rooney and Zlatan Ibrahimovic will meet on the pitch when D.C. United hosts the LA Galaxy on Sunday night at Audi Field.
You can catch D.C. United vs. LA Galaxy LIVE on Sunday, August 11 at 7:30pm et/4:30pm pt on TSN1/4, on TSN Direct and streaming on TSN.ca.
Both Rooney and Zlatan have been in the news for different reasons this week.
On Tuesday, the 33-year-old Rooney announced that he would be leaving United at season’s end to join Championship side Derby County as a player-coach under new manager, longtime Barcelona and Netherlands midfielder Phillip Cocu, in January on an 18-month deal.
"While the decision to move home was a tough one, family is everything to us and we make this change to be closer to the ones we love back in England," Rooney said.
Rooney had two years remaining on his DCU deal, but the club will not receive a transfer fee.
Still, United general manager Dave Kasper does not begrudge Rooney and has no regrets about his departure.
“He came as a free agent and he is leaving as a free agent,” Kasper told the Washington Post’s Steven Goff on Thursday. “If we would have been asked two years ago, before we opened Audi Field, would we be interested in Wayne Rooney for 18 months, we would’ve said, yes, absolutely. Obviously, he signed a deal longer than that, but things change in life and family is very important to him. We respect and understand that. We got him as a free agent and it was only the right thing to do to let him go as a free agent.”
The Liverpool native has done what DCU has asked of him in bringing the team to relevance again after a year in the wilderness. Rooney, who joined United from Everton last summer, has scored 23 times in 41 league games. United currently sits fifth in the Eastern Conference with a four-point cushion above Toronto FC in seventh, the closest team on the outside looking in.
Before he leaves for England, Rooney says he’s intent to leave MLS in a blaze of glory.
“I remain fully focused on giving my all for the team for the rest of this season and repaying the support shown by the Black-and-Red faithful by hopefully delivering an MLS Cup to Audi Field," Rooney said.
To help do that, United has provided the club with some recent reenforcements. Brazilian midfielder Felipe Martins, acquired this week from Vancouver Whitecaps, and attacking midfielder Emmanuel Boateng, picked up in a trade with the Galaxy, could make their DCU debuts on Sunday night, while Norway forward Ola Kamara, signed from Chinese Super League side Shenzen this week, is waiting in the wings pending his international transfer certificate.
As United is gearing up for a playoff run, their opponents – the Galaxy – have hit a recent run of poor form and Ibra is not a happy man.
The Galaxy are winless in three straight matches now and have been shut out in two straight, getting routed 3-0 by defending MLS Cup champions Atlanta United last time out and shellacked 4-0 by Portland Timbers before that.
Though the Galaxy are still in fifth spot in the West and in firm control of a playoff spot, Ibrahimovic doesn’t seem to care about that. The former Sweden international thinks systemic change is needed when it comes to the playoff format.
"I think the system is s---," Ibrahimovic said. "How can you learn mentality if you only have to reach the playoffs?”
While Europe’s premier top flights don’t have a playoff format, it’s not unheard of in football. In the Championship, where Rooney is headed, the top two teams are awarded automatic promotion, while teams in third to sixth compete in a two-legged semi-final with the winners meeting at Wembley for the final promotion spot. Yet Ibrahimovic believes the system rewards complacency.
"You just need to win the playoffs, and that's it,” Ibrahimovic said. “The results in each game are important, but here, if you come in seventh place, you make the playoffs and win, you are champion. For me, the mentality is every day, training the way you train is the way you play a game, and with the MLS system, how do you create that mentality to be on your toes 24 hours? It's very difficult."
Ibrahimovic is trying to do his part to lift the Galaxy to the top of the West with 16 goals in 18 matches this season. He’s going to have some help with in the Galaxy attack with the addition of Argentina winger Cristian Pavon, on loan from Boca Juniors.
The match on Sunday night will only mark the third time that Rooney and Ibrahimovic have met in a competitive game over their illustrious careers.
When England and Sweden drew 2-2 at the 2006 World Cup in Germany, Rooney started for the Three Lions, while Ibrahimovic was an unused substitute on the bench.
In 2012, England and Sweden found themselves drawn in the same group at the Euro with both Rooney and Ibrahimovic selected to represent their respective nations at the tournament. But because of violent conduct in a match against Montenegro the prior October, Rooney was suspended for the first two matches of the tournament and missed England’s 3-2 win over Sweden.
The only time the pair did meet was during the 2009 Champions League.
Rooney’s Red Devils drew Ibrahimovic’s Inter in the first knockout round tie. The first leg saw a 0-0 stalemate at the San Siro with both men starting. Zlatan played a full 90, while Rooney was subbed off in the 83rd for Park Ji-Sung. In the return leg a fortnight later at Old Trafford, goals from Nemanja Vidic and Cristiano Ronaldo lifted United to a 2-0 win and passage to the quarterfinals.
The pair would meet one more time, but during a summer friendly in 2015. Ibrahimovic was on the mark as Paris Saint-Germain defeated United 2-0 in Chicago.