Zlatan Ibrahimovic is coming to town, and the Chicago Fire is getting ready.
The Swedish superstar, who also plans to let his new Los Angeles Galaxy teammates tag along, has played two MLS games since signing, entering both as a second-half substitute. He already has 2 goals, scoring both in a thrilling come-from-behind victory against cross-town rival Los Angeles Football Club.
The Fire (1-2-1, 4 points) announced Wednesday that Toyota Park is sold out for Saturday's nationally televised game (2:30 p.m., Univision), the first sellout of the season for the Fire.
"The main thing for us is just dealing with the circus, dealing with the hoopla surrounding it," Fire captain Dax McCarty said of Ibrahimovic's arrival. "We don't have any inside info, but my expectation is that he's going to start the game.
"So sellout crowd, a lot of Ajax and (Paris-Saint Germain) and Inter Milan and Barcelona fans, people with the jerseys from all the clubs he's played at. This is how it is. This is how it was with (Bastian Schweinsteiger) last year, that's how it was with Thierry (Henry). The fans pay to see the big names and the big stars."
The weather Saturday could affect whether Ibrahimovic gets his first MLS start. Thunderstorms and temperatures in the mid-40s are in the forecast.
"Very happy for him that he comes over to Los Angeles to the MLS," said Schweinsteiger, the Fire midfielder/sweeper who played with Ibrahimovic at Manchester United and made his own celebrated MLS debut a year ago. "It's great timing for the league. Happy for him and glad to see him."
The flamboyant Ibrahimovic scored 62 goals in 114 appearances for Sweden before retiring from international play. He remains Sweden's all-time leading scorer.
Saturday's game will be his first in MLS outside of Los Angeles.
Schweinsteiger gave a brief scouting report on how to defend the powerful 6-foot-5 striker, saying the 36-year-old thinks quickly on the field, giving himself a few options.
"He's always very hard to defend. I know him since long time ago. I remember games where he was playing for Juventus in the Olympic Stadium in Munich," said Schweinsteiger, who led Germany to a World Cup championship. "So he's very difficult to play. Obviously one of the best strikers in the world. He's still very important for every team. You could already see that in the games."
McCarty said the Fire needs to treat Ibrahimovic like he's human and not be in awe of him on the field.
"It's always difficult to prepare for guys like that because you watch as much game film as you want, it doesn't really matter," he said. "They are the people that they are and the players that they are for a reason. And that's because they're blessed with a very special gift to be able to play this game at an incredibly high level."
The Galaxy (2-2-1, 7 points) has plenty of talent, starting with brothers Giovani and Jonathan dos Santos, though Gio do Santos has missed a few games with a hamstring injury and might not play Saturday.
McCarty has seen superstars come through the league before, playing with Henry in New York. For first-year defender Grant Lillard, a homegrown player from Hinsdale, this is all new.
"Those are the superstars that you kind of grow up watching, for me at least, and to be able to have the opportunity to play against them this weekend is unbelievable," said Lillard, who made his MLS debut last week in a 1-0 win against Columbus as a second-half sub. "They have a lot of talent and we're going to work hard to deal with it."
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