SAN JOSE, Calif. — As the southern part of the state enjoyed the arrival of Zlatan Ibrahimovic to the LA Galaxy, it was business as usual in the Bay Area for the San Jose Earthquakes. Chris Wondolowski, following another busy day on the training field, sort of shrugged his shoulders at the news of LA’s latest big-name signing.
“I hope he helps the Galaxy finish seventh,” the Quakes captain quipped.
Wondolowski strode the line succinctly between sincerity and sarcasm. He knows that Zlatan’s move to MLS is huge for the league, but he was careful to provide the Earthquakes’ biggest rivals too many well wishes.
“I hope nothing but the best for him,” Wondolowski added. “It’s a good sign for the league and he can still play at a high level. I wish we had already played them twice so we don’t have to face him, but it’s still a good thing.”
The Earthquakes and Galaxy will play twice this season, just over a month apart, first at StubHub Center in Carson on May 25 followed by the return leg on June 30 at Stanford Stadium. Both games of the Cali Clasico this season will no doubt be sell-outs.
Ibrahimovic made his introduction to Los Angeles in trademark Zlatan fashion. The 36 year old superstar bought a full page add in the LA Times that simply read, “Dear Los Angeles, You’re welcome.” The Swedish international is well known for his oversized ego — he told the Times that if Los Angeles is not big enough to contain his personality, “I’ll make it bigger.” — which should help him fit right in with the LA Galacticos.
So are all Swedes so egotistical? The Earthquakes have also looked to the Scandinavian nation for its footballing prowess, hiring Mikael Stahre as their head coach and singing Magnus Eriksson to a Designated Player contract this offseason. For Eriksson, he chuckled at the grandstanding Ibrahimovic creates at every opportunity, but cautioned not to see all Swedes in the same way.
“It’s not a Swedish ego, it’s more a Zlatan ego, I would say,” he said with a laugh.
According to Eriksson, he and Ibrahimovic have crossed paths on a couple occasions. The LA Galaxy’s newest forward last played club soccer in his native country back in 2001 with Malmö FF — Eriksson was only 11 years old at the time — and since then featured in Europe’s biggest leagues. Both players have earned caps with Sweden’s national team, though not in equal numbers — Eriksson has one to Zlatan’s 116.
“It’s great,” Eriksson added on Zlatan’s move to America. “Big news here, and big news back home in Sweden. He’s a big name player.”
Unlike Wondolowski, who had no qualms about throwing some shade on LA’s latest acquisition, Eriksson is excited for the opportunity to face off against Ibrahimovic when the first Cali Clasico comes up on the schedule in late May.
“Yeah, that will be fun,” Eriksson said. “That will be great. It’s a big game for the club and it’s a big rival, so everything that comes with that, and him joining them, of course, is even more special.”
Eriksson, 27, made the move to MLS directly from the Allsvenskan, Sweden’s top flight, without the decade-long continental tour Zlatan took, and he has already making an impact within the league. Many of the new international signings by MLS, Eriksson included, have been on the younger side of 30, but the Quakes DP feels that despite Ibrahimovic’s more advanced age, his arrival should be celebrated.
“I have said it for a couple weeks now: MLS is growing and I think that he is still a great player,” Eriksson said. “To bring him here brings additional credit to the league and to everything here, so I think you should be proud and we should be proud to have him here.”