Prior to the 2018 MLS season, Laurent Ciman had scored two goals in regular season play, plus one goal in the playoffs, so three in 85 games.
This season with Los Angeles Football Club, Ciman has three goals in 13 games so far.
Across the Belgian’s entire career, he’s scored less than 20 goals, but he’s on a red-hot pace so far with his new club. What’s behind it?
All of Ciman’s regular-season goals in MLS have been off set pieces, which is notable. But while his goals with the Montreal Impact came off corner kicks (one headed goal, one kicked in), all of his goals with LAFC have come directly through free kicks he’s taken himself.
Ciman was not known as a set-piece specialist with the Impact, probably because he never took them, and while it’s not unheard of for a central defender to be the free kick taker it was a little unusual to see him line up against Montreal earlier this season on his first try from the dead ball situation:
Then there was this free kick, to win it for LAFC at the death in their home opener against Seattle Sounders:
Do you see something in common with these goals?
There’s not one good way to hit a free kick. Sometimes, they are meant to be indirect, and are hit a certain way to find a teammate, who will try to get it in.
But on direct free kicks, specialists tend to go for curling attempts on goal. You know the type, dipping up and over the wall and dropping down to go under the crossbar, or, less often, curling around a wall.
Again, these kind of free kicks aren’t the only ones out there, but they are pretty common, both in effort and conversion, and the appeal is obvious: Ball movement is tricky, and any attempt to force the goalkeeper to deal with a dipping, swerving ball, around or through traffic, would seem to increase one’s chances of scoring off a free kick.
But here’s the thing: Ciman is finding success because he’s trying a completely different strategy on his direct free kicks. Instead of aiming to put a lot of movement on the ball, he’s hitting flat balls that either only rise or are aimed to knuckle and bounce right in front of a goalkeeper.
No one would discount the fact that two of the goals, against Seattle and Columbus, could probably have been better handled by the respective goalkeepers. But...maybe that point has been overlooked — Ciman’s delivery of the free kicks is distinct enough that the goalkeepers aren’t quite ready to handle them? One time might be a fluke, but he’s now making it a habit.
Anyway, we’ve revealed his trick so it’s probably ruined. Just kidding, game tape exists, and yet Ciman keeps trying free kicks that look impossible and scoring on them. At this point, we have to give him full credit for trying a technique that is fooling goalkeepers once, twice, three times this season.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!