CARSON, Calif. (Reuters) – Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s debut with LA Galaxy on Saturday will add extra spice to their highly-anticipated first meeting with crosstown rivals Los Angeles FC, players and coaches said on Friday.
News that the 36-year-old Swedish striker would leave Manchester United for the Galaxy sent shockwaves through LA last week and throngs of the Major League Soccer side’s fans showed up to greet him at the airport late on Thursday.
Saturday’s sold-out fixture pits the Galaxy, one of the league’s original 10 teams, against expansion club LAFC, whose ownership group includes sports figures and celebrities such as Will Ferrell and Magic Johnson.
“It’s a big start to something here,” Galaxy defender Daniel Steres said on Friday after Ibrahimovic’s first practice with the team at the StubHub Center.
“It’s going to be a huge crowd, very energetic. It’s going to be loud and it’s going to be exciting.
“(Ibrahimovic) adds a little extra bonus into it but I think even before, everyone in Los Angeles was pretty excited for this one. They’ve been looking forward to it all year.”
Galaxy coach Sigi Schmid said Ibrahimovic, who is still working his way back from a knee injury, was available for the game but did not say whether he would play.
Schmid added that it was difficult to gauge the intensity of the rivalry between the sides at this stage, although if vandals defacing murals of each other’s teams in LA is any indication it is already smoldering.
“It means a lot to our fans and our fans are very important to us, so we want to put forth our best effort for them,” he said.
Galaxy defender Ashley Cole, who played in several derbies with Arsenal and Chelsea in the English Premier League, said it would take time for the rivalry to build up between the LA teams.
“We have not yet played against them yet. I think it will take a few games to get into the spirit of it,” he said.
“But having a new team in LA is good for the city, good for the MLS and I’m looking forward to it.”
Editing by Peter Rutherford