MLS

Ibrahimovic labels himself greatest MLS player and hints at United States return

By Sports Desk April 29, 2022

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  • Real Salt Lake v LA Galaxy: Mastroeni sets his sights high Real Salt Lake v LA Galaxy: Mastroeni sets his sights high

    Real Salt Lake head coach Pablo Mastroeni says his team are aiming to be champions and are looking to continue their impressive form against LA Galaxy on Saturday.

    RSL sit top of the Western Conference on 37 points, having lost just two matches so far this season while putting together an astounding 15-game unbeaten run in the league.

    Mastroeni knows exactly where his side are in the table, and he has embraced the challenge that comes with being the leader.

    "It's about connecting to the big picture - we want to be champs," said Mastroeni. "There's all these sayings in sport for a reason, the one I go by is offence will win you games, but defence will win you championships.

    "It always goes back to what we want to achieve as a team. It's about fine-tuning some things and having a real understanding that we're now the hunted and need to get everyone's best game."

    The Galaxy are one of those chasing Salt Lake down, sitting just three points below them in third, having lost just one of their last nine matches.

    Having won their last two games, head coach Greg Vanney was particularly pleased with how his side defended in those two victories.

    "When we're following through on our responsibilities and making the games as predictable as we possibly can, then it helps the group to deal with situations a lot easier and cleaner," Vanney said.

    "We've done a nice job of that in the last two games, and it helps us to defend better. It gives the group a lot of confidence in understanding that if we stick to what we want to do, we can be a lot more efficient, especially in defence."

    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    Real Salt Lake – Cristian Arango

    Arango has scored six goals in six career MLS matches against the Galaxy (incl. playoffs), tied for his most against any opponent in MLS play (Austin, Dallas).

    No player has scored more goals against the Galaxy since Arango joined MLS in August 2021.

    LA Galaxy – Dejan Joveljic

    Joveljic had both a goal and an assist in the Galaxy's win over New York City FC on Wednesday, his second straight game with one of each.

    The only other Galaxy player to have three straight regular-season games with both a goal and an assist is Zlatan Ibrahimovic (September 2019).

    MATCH PREDICTION: REAL SALT LAKE WIN

    Salt Lake have lost only one of their last six regular-season matches against the Galaxy (W2 D3), though that defeat came in their last home league match against them in May 2023.

    The Galaxy have won consecutive regular-season road games against RSL just once, doing so in 2012-13.

    RSL are unbeaten in 15 straight regular-season matches (W9 D6), equaling the longest single-season streak since the Portland Timbers went 15 straight without defeat in 2018. There have only been three longer single-season streaks in MLS history, most recently a 16-match run by New York Red Bulls in 2016.

    Meanwhile, the Galaxy have won four of their last five games (L1) with the last three of those wins coming by at least two goals. It is the first time the team have had three victories by multiple goals in a four-game span since doing so in September-October 2018.

    OPTA WIN PROBABILITY

    Real Salt Lake – 53.7%

    Draw – 23.8%

    LA Galaxy – 22.6%

  • St. Louis City v Atlanta United: Markanich says home advantage must tell St. Louis City v Atlanta United: Markanich says home advantage must tell

    St. Louis City must use this week's home clash with Atlanta United to turn things around after seven games without a victory, says defender Anthony Markanich.

    St. Louis were thrashed 3-0 by the Colorado Rapids in midweek to extend their miserable run of form, with their last victory coming against the Chicago Fire back on May 12.

    They have slipped to 12th in the Western Conference standings after topping the pile in their first campaign in MLS in 2023, and Markanich says they need to harness the support they receive at CITYPARK.

    "I think every home game should be a win," Markanich said. "These next two games are very important."

    Reflecting on their midweek defeat, head coach Bradley Carnell said: "At the moment, we can have certain things not going our way. We're not looking for excuses or for help, we have to help ourselves out of this situation. 

    "I'm confident in my group that we can do that. It's not been what we were looking for and we know we can do better."

    Atlanta, meanwhile, have won back-to-back matches to rise to ninth in the Eastern Conference, looking revitalised under interim head coach Rob Valentino.

    Thiago Almada scored their winner against D.C. United last time out, leading Valentino to heap praise upon the 2022 World Cup winner.

    "He ends up showing his quality, that's what he's there for," Valentino said of Almada.

    "He works hard in training to do that, whether he's got pressure on him or not. As a staff we try to take the pressure off everyone in the group and let them go out and enjoy their football."

    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    St. Louis City – Joao Klauss

    Klauss' five goals in MLS this year are more than any other St. Louis player, while only Celio Pompeu and Eduard Lowen (three apiece) have bettered his two assists among his team-mates.

    Atlanta United – Thiago Almada 

    Almada scored the only goal of the match from outside the box in Atlanta's win over D.C. United on Wednesday, his 12th career MLS goal from outside the area, four more than any other player since he joined the league in 2022.

    MATCH PREDICTION – DRAW 

    This will be the first ever meeting between St. Louis and Atlanta. The hosts are winless in four straight games on their own turf for the first time in club history.

    Atlanta, meanwhile, have recorded back-to-back road wins for the first time in almost three years, since victories over the Columbus Crew and D.C. back in August 2021.

    The Five Stripes had drawn four of their previous five away matches across all competitions, though, and another draw could be on the cards here.

    OPTA WIN PROBABILITY

    St. Louis City – 37%

    Atlanta United – 36.6%

    Draw – 26.4%

  • United States v Bolivia: Knockout victory will measure success, claims Adams United States v Bolivia: Knockout victory will measure success, claims Adams

    Tyler Adams believes winning a knockout match is the real measure of success for the United States at the Copa America.

    The USA are the host nation of the 2024 Copa America, and they kick-start their campaign against Bolivia on Sunday.

    Gregg Berhalter's team will also face Panama and Uruguay in Group C, which they are predicted to progress from in second place, according to Opta's supercomputer.

    And while taking nothing for granted ahead of facing the tournament's worst-ranked team, Adams believes a true litmus test for the USA would be progressing beyond the quarter-finals.

    "For me, it's getting past the quarter-final," said Adams.

    "We need to – in a pressure situation – win in a knockout. That's going to measure a lot of our success."

    Defender Mark McKenzie added: "When you talk about some of the most watched games, I think aside from the World Cup, you look at the Copa America.

    "You talk about countries that have won multiple World Cups, in Uruguay and Argentina and Brazil.

    "You have the opportunity now to step into this tournament and go head-to-head with them. Ultimately, it's usually a South American tournament and now we have the opportunity to play against them."

    Carlos Zago won the Copa America with Brazil in 1999, and the Bolivia head coach is out to cause an upset at the AT&T Stadium.

    "The most important thing is for us to compete," Zago said.

    "We have to try to play on an equal footing with the big teams in terms of intensity and physicality."

    Bournemouth midfielder Adams also made a bullish statement in regards to his own ability.

    "When I'm healthy and playing consistently, I'm one of the best midfielders at what I do in the world," he said, as reported by the Daily Mail.

    "I'm not a politician, I don't need to persuade anyone."

    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    United States - Christian Pulisic

    Pulisic, who will captain the Stars and Stripes at this tournament, is their chief playmaker and also a potent goal threat.

    Indeed, he is coming off his best season in terms of goals scored at club level, having netted 15 times for Milan in 2023-24.

    Bolivia - Carlos Lampe

    Carlos Lampe (nine) is two matches away from equalling Arturo Lopez (11) for the third-most appearances among goalkeepers for Bolivia in the Copa America.

    Only Eduardo Gutierrez (12) and Vicente Arraya (20) have played more matches in goal for Bolivia in the competition.

    MATCH PREDICTION: UNITED STATES WIN

    The USA and Bolivia have faced each other only once in the Copa America, and it was a victory for the South American team, 1-0 at Estadio Parque Artigas in Uruguay during the group stage of the 1995 edition, thanks to a goal by Marco Etcheverry.

    However, the USA are backed to win this time, even though CONMEBOL teams have won eight of the last 10 matches against the Stars and Stripes in the Copa America, including the two most recent: Argentina 4-0 USA (semifinals in 2016) and Colombia 1-0 USA (third-place match in 2016).

    Bolivia will seek a win against a CONCACAF opponent in the competition for the first time since the 1997 edition when they defeated Mexico 3-1 in the semi-finals of the tournament they hosted.

    Expect Bolivia to go long more often than not. So far in the South American Qualifiers for the 2026 World Cup, Bolivia (along with Paraguay) have the highest average passing distance (20.5 meters).

    OPTA WIN PROBABILITY

    USA - 58%

    Bolivia - 21%

    Draw - 21%

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