Banged up Impact defence tasked with stopping super Swede Zlatan Ibrahimovic

LA Galaxy forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic will play against the Montreal Impact. Chris Carlson/AP

As if injuries and a losing record weren’t enough for the Montreal Impact to worry about, now they have to go up against one of soccer’s most prolific scorers — Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

The six-foot-five Swedish striker and the Los Angeles Galaxy visit Saputo Stadium on Monday afternoon, with both the Impact (3-8-0) and L.A. (3-6-1) looking to shake off sub-par starts to the Major League Soccer season.

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Ibrahimovic is the latest in a line of international stars who have chosen to end their careers in MLS, a trend that gained traction when the Galaxy signed former Manchester United and Real Madrid maestro David Beckham in 2007.

Since then, some of soccer’s biggest names including Theirry Henry, Kaka, David Villa, Andrea Pirlo and Bastien Schweinsteiger have crossed the Atlantic. The Impact have had their own with A.C. Milan defence giant Alessandro Nesta in 2012 and 2013 and Chelsea legend Didier Drogba in 2015 and 2016.

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“It’s exciting,” said Impact goalkeeper Evan Bush.

“It’s guys that you’ve watched for many years on TV and, maybe not idolized, but watched do certain things with awe.”

“Now we go up against him. Playing against guys like Henry or Beckham in the past, and having Drogba here, gives us an ability to not be in awe of him on the field. It’s just another game now. We certainly need to be aware of where he is and what he’s capable of but I don’t think we’ll be star-struck by any means.”

The 36-year-old Ibrahimovic has three goals and three assists in seven games since joining the Galaxy in March. He is a danger to defences not only due to his size when he’s in the 18-yard box, but also for his ability to score from distance.

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A full house expected

He’ll be up against an injury-riddled Impact back line that has left back Daniel Lovitz suspended one game for a red card taken in last week’s 2-0 home loss to Philadelphia. Rod Fanni, Jukka Raitala and Chris Duvall are the only healthy defenders, although coach Remi Garde hopes Rudy Camacho and Michael Petrasso can recover on time.

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The Galaxy, who are in a four-game losing streak, are coming off a 3-2 loss in Dallas in which Ibrahimovic didn’t score, but rang a free kick off a goalpost.

The aging stars have led some to call MLS a retirement league, with some justification as players who can no longer get into the starting 11 in Europe have mostly shone in North America, at least for a year or two. But in recent years most clubs have spent their designated player money on younger talent, with older ones now the exception.

Montreal Impact goalie Evan Bush said he’s excited to play against a legend. Ezequiel Becerra/

The next one may be England stalwart Wayne Rooney, who is reportedly close to joining D.C. United from Everton.

“You get that kind of chatter from people who always want to condemn the league for what they’re done in the past, but that’s not the case,” Bush said. “I think they’re paying Zlatan TAM (targeted allocation money).

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“He’s not even a (designated player), so if you can get a guy like that on that type of money and have him be the face of your franchise, that you can market, then it’d be dumb not to.”

It won’t be Ibrahimovic’s first visit to Saputo Stadium. He was part of a Paris St. Germain side that beat Lyon 2-0 there in the 2015 French Trophee des Champions (supercup). Long-time Lyon boss Garde wasn’t at that game, but he knows Ibrahimovic well.

“He’s a player you have to keep an eye on, but he knows how to make opponents overlook him,” said Garde.

“You think he’s not having a good day and then you see that he is. He’s quite unique to play against.”

Garde likes the idea of older stars playing in MLS, calling it a good advertisement for the league and a chance to show fans what world class talent looks like.

“All these players have shown that not only their name came to MLS, but they performed very well,” he said.

“No matter the age of the player, it’s more about passion than physical capacity.”

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A full house is expected, not only for Ibrahimovic’s visit, but for the Impact’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of their first home game back in the defunct APSL in 1993.

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