MLS is back in full swing after the international break and so is Zlatan Ibrahimovic, whose LA Galaxy tangle with the slow-starting Portland Timbers on Sunday (9:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2), while embattled bosses Frank de Boer of Atlanta United and Brad Friedel of the New England Revolution hope to avoid any further hot-seat talk against the Columbus Crew and Minnesota United, respectively, on Saturday.
The Lion returns to the feast
That loud sound you heard on Tuesday coming from the Pacific time zone was the sigh of relief from LA Galaxy fans with the news that Zlatan Ibrahimovic was back in training following the Achilles injury that had kept him out three weeks. The Galaxy actually did respectably well while The Lion was out, defeating Minnesota 3-2 after dropping a 2-0 result the week before in Dallas.
But Ibrahimovic's injury was a reminder that at age 37 it will be difficult for him to remain healthy the remainder of the season. The Galaxy got pretty lucky last season that the Swedish striker did not miss any extended time, but the fear is that this early absence could be a harbinger of things to come in 2019.
However, as long as Ibrahimovic is on the field, he'll be a handful, which is bad news for Sunday's opponent. The Timbers thus far have been a shell of the team that reached MLS Cup last season, in which they conceded 48 goals. Already through three games in 2019, Giovanni Savarese's bunch have coughed up a league-worst 10 goals.
This should play into the hands of Ibrahimovic, who is happy to make weaker defenses in the league look exceptionally bad -- last season's hat trick in Orlando comes to mind. Portland will eventually turn things around, but it's hard seeing that it will come this week against a hungry Ibrahimovic.
#DeBoerOut gaining steam in Atlanta
If you are keeping score at home, the number of #DeBoerOut Twitter accounts has now grown to five as Atlanta United's struggles continue under the Dutchman. Worse for De Boer is that even when Atlanta don't play, he loses.
Former Atlanta boss Gerardo "Tata" Martino has Mexico firing on all cylinders, with seven goals across two wins against Chile and Paraguay. One can't help but think what was going through the minds of Atlanta United fans while watching Martino's El Tri roll past those two CONMEBOL teams.
Contrast that to De Boer's Atlanta, which has mustered just two points in its first three MLS matches, both coming in disappointing home draws against newbies FC Cincinnati and a Marco Fabian-less Philadelphia Union. Ouch.
The task doesn't get any easier for De Boer as United hit the road to face Columbus on Saturday (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+). The Crew are doing what the Crew usually do: play good soccer, defend their home turf and place themselves among the top five teams in the Eastern Conference. This is just the type of match that could go really poorly for Atlanta and provoke some serious soul-searching in the front office.
From bad to worse in New England
Speaking of coaches on the hot seat, that is where Brad Friedel finds himself firmly placed after a dismal performance from the Revolution in front of a miniscule crowd at Gillette Stadium in a 2-0 loss to a Cincinnati team that was missing a good chunk of its starters.
There are always telltale signs when a coach has lost the locker room, and Friedel's comments during halftime of the Cincinnati game revealed as much. With his team down 1-0 at the break, Friedel pretty much admitted that his players had gone rogue. "It's nothing that we worked on during the week," he said in regards to the team's first-half tactics.
Evidenced by the final result, Friedel's team talk at halftime did little to inspire, and now the Revs are in closed-door-team-meeting mode, which, as Friedel reminded everyone, are "never nice." Then again, neither is unemployment, but if New England can't climb out of rock bottom in the Eastern Conference -- one point in four games -- on Sunday at home against Minnesota United (2:00 p.m. ET, ESPN+), that could well be Friedel's fate.