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LAFC 2018 Player Postmortem: Laurent Ciman

A turbulent spell for a fiery player.

MLS: Portland Timbers at Los Angeles FC Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Los Angeles Football Club may have played just one season, but it’s safe to say Laurent Ciman’s brief run at the club was the one filled with the most ups and downs of any player to date.

The Belgian was traded from the Montreal Impact to LAFC immediately after the expansion draft last December, with Ciman blindsided by the move and initially taking his frustration out on social media.

He did, however, come around publicly pretty quickly, and was named LAFC’s first captain. For a brand-new expansion team that still had quite a bit of MLS experience on the roster, that was not insignificant.

Ciman paired with Dejan Jakovic and then primary center back partner Walker Zimmerman with the black-and-gold, and Ciman and Zimmerman formed a front-foot, highly aggressive team in the middle of the backline.

He had been MLS Defender of the Year in 2015, and after a stunning debut season in MLS, Ciman was equally liable to make a game-saving tackle as he was to step too high and get caught out. With LAFC, he brought that same tendency, although his vocal leadership style and aggressive approach helped set the tone for his new team.

Ciman LAFC 2018 statistics

2018 Games Played Games Started Minutes Goals Assists Shots SOG Yellow Cards Red Cards
2018 Games Played Games Started Minutes Goals Assists Shots SOG Yellow Cards Red Cards
MLS Regular Season 22 22 1,980 3 0 24 10 1 0
U.S. Open Cup 2 2 210 0 0 9 2 0 0
MLS Playoffs 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Total 24 24 2,190 3 0 33 12 1 0

Ciman also became a revelation hitting long distance free kicks that scored. Three times, in fact!

First he got some revenge on his old team to jumpstart a comeback in Montreal:

Then he made history with the first goal at Banc of California Stadium, a combination of dramatic timing, a goalkeeper error and a feeling of destiny:

And he followed that up with a third long-distance goal from a dead ball against Columbus:

For a player who I couldn’t recall ever taking a free kick in scoring range in Montreal, and whose delivery was different than most MLS players, it was a nice bonus to see him unleash that from his arsenal.

On the other side, there was the down moments. Ciman went away with Belgium as a member of the provisional squad for this summer’s World Cup, but was the final cut by Roberto Martinez and missed out on a semifinal run by the Red Devils. On a stopover in Europe prior to his return to Los Angeles, he hinted that he would be on the move before long. That turned out to be a prescient note.

When Ciman couldn’t convert his penalty in the shootout against the Houston Dynamo in the U.S. Open Cup semifinal, he came out at LAFC fans who had apparently abused him for the mistake (even though other LAFC players also failed to convert in the shootout).

By the end of the month, Ciman was on his way to France.

The first indication came when Ciman sat out a vital El Trafico clash, with Bob Bradley’s answer, that he was benched for tactical reasons, not really making sense. Then, Ciman was sold to Ligue 1 side Dijon days later, with LAFC picking up $500,000 on an expiring contract.

At the time, the idea was that Ciman wanted to return to a Francophone country and be closer to family. His daughter has autism and one of the reasons he was so upset he had been traded by Montreal in the first place was that there were special services and therapies available to his family in Quebec, reportedly the main reason why he came to MLS in the first place. So the move to France was LAFC doing right by a player who wanted out for family reasons. It might be a bit messy, but for the betterment of a player’s family, fair enough.

Remarkably, Ciman’s stint with Dijon lasted about four months, as his contract (that again, cost Dijon a $500,000 transfer fee on an expiring contract) was cancelled, and he was selected by Toronto FC in the allocation order on Thursday. LAFC didn’t hold his MLS rights because they got a transfer fee for him, so Ciman could come back to haunt LAFC, potentially, in 2019.

I think in evaluating his stint with LAFC by the strictest standards, it’s a mixed bag. He had leadership in spades, and he did have a number of enormous plays in defense to save goals, from the first game on. His ability to score was a bonus, but it turned out to be a useful tool for the black-and-gold.

But LAFC had a leaky defense. That’s not entirely on Ciman, of course — Bradley’s system of playing without a pure defensive midfielder put massive pressure on the defense, and the aggression of Ciman and Zimmerman sometimes turned out to cut out scoring chances and at other times left them woefully out of position and they were carved up. One of the tricky parts of evaluating the defense for this team is that the system is so attacking that the defense is bound to suffer, and it did, admittedly.

But Ciman helped set the tone for the early team, and LAFC have work to do to truly replace him, work that is ongoing for the 2019 season. His game isn’t perfect, but superior defenders at an MLS price don’t grow on trees. That may ultimately be the biggest credit to the Belgian, that LAFC have a tall order in replacing their first captain, the man who had his own supporters group at this team. Even eight months of Laurent Ciman left an indelible impression on LAFC’s history, and that’s unlikely to be forgotten.

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