Ibrahimovic makes playoff debut as chase for MLS Cup begins

Josef Martinez is back just in time to help Atlanta United try to defend its MLS Cup title. Swedish star Zlatan Ibrahimovic makes his Major League Soccer playoffs debut for the LA Galaxy.

And England star Wayne Rooney is finishing up his stint with D.C. United before heading home to be a player-coach for Derby County.

Those are just three of the story lines as the MLS playoffs begins this weekend.

Martinez twisted his knee in a Sept. 21 game against the Earthquakes. The reigning league MVP was expected to miss several weeks but then started in United’s final regular-season match against New England and scored in a 3-1 victory.

Atlanta and New England, bouyed by the in-season coaching change to Bruce Arena, meet again in the first round Saturday in the playoff opener. The MLS went to a single-elimination playoff format, replacing the two-legged format for the conference semifinals and finals that the league started in 2003. The MLS Cup final is Nov. 10, its earliest finish since 2002.

And because the league expanded to 24 teams, MLS also expanded the playoffs to include 14 teams, seven from each conference.

NYCFC and LAFC finished atop their conferences to earn an opening-round bye. Four of the first-round matches are set for Saturday, with the remaining two on Sunday.

ELSEWHERE

Day shoots 66, trails by 2 at CJ Cup

Jason Day’s attempt to impress International team captain Ernie Els for a spot at the Presidents Cup took a positive turn Thursday when the Australian shot a 6-under-par 66 to sit two strokes off the lead after the opening round of the CJ Cup at Nine Bridges in Jeju Island, South Korea.

In the first event of a three-tournament PGA Tour swing through Asia, Byeong Hun An took the lead with a 64 with Joaquin Niemann a stroke behind in second.

Day was alone in third place.

Justin Thomas shot 68, defending champion Brooks Koepka shot 69 with an eagle on the 18th and Phil Mickelson and Jordan Spieth each shot 70.

Kevin Na, who won in a playoff in Las Vegas two weeks ago, had a 72 and Sergio Garcia shot 73.

• Nasa Hataoka birdied three of the final six holes for a 5-under 67 and a share of the first-round lead with Amy Yang in the Buick LPGA Shanghai, the first of four straight events in Asia.

Tennis: Andy Murray reached the quarterfinals of the European Open in Antwerp, Belgium, by beating Pablo Cuevas 6-4, 6-3. The former No. 1 is now 7-7 on tour since returning to action after having hip surgery in January.

Meanwhile, the three top seeds — No. 1 Gael Monfils, No. 2 No. 2 David Goffin and No. 3 Diego Schwartzman — all lost.

This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/sports/article/Ibrahimovic-makes-playoff-debut-as-chase-for-MLS-14543495.php.

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