By Luis Bueno – RIVERSIDE, CA (Aug 29, 2018) US Soccer Players - When LAFC began constructing the roster for its first-ever MLS campaign, the club fortified the defense first and foremost. Upon completion of the MLS expansion draft in December, LAFC had its first-ever center back pairing. The new club landed veteran defender Laurent Ciman after dealing away two expansion draft selections to Montreal and paired him with Walker Zimmerman, who had joined via trade from FC Dallas days earlier.
Head coach Bob Bradley praised Ciman for his experience and usefulness in helping build a team from scratch. Now, the same player who gave the club toughness and stability is the one who will be taking that away, potentially costing the team a realistic chance at making a run at MLS Cup, if not reaching the playoffs altogether.
Ciman is gone from LAFC, leaving the club in a surprise move back to the Old World. LAFC transferred Ciman to French club Dijon in a deal worth a reported $500,000. The move came after Ciman and LAFC failed to agree to a contract extension, according to reports. The Belgian’s contract with LAFC was set to expire at the end of the year. Apparently, Ciman was unwilling to gamble on whether the club would keep him around or not.
For Ciman the deal is solid. A move to France gets his family back in French-speaking surroundings. Ciman’s family had settled in well in Montreal, but the move to Los Angeles came as a shock. More than that, though, it provides Ciman was some comfort at the end of his career. Dijon promptly signed Ciman to a two-year contract with an option for a third.
While it may make sense for LAFC to obtain money for a player now instead of watching him walk away at the end of the year without any compensation, that sort of move is risky. Ciman's move across the Atlantic will certainly make things much more difficult down the stretch for LAFC.
A team like LAFC needs experienced players like Ciman to count on during tough moments, the kinds of moments that will become the norm soon. LAFC sits in 3rd-place in the Western Conference table but is not a sure playoff participant just yet. LAFC has eight games left and just six points separate 3rd-place from 7th-place.
The post-Ciman era started on Friday when LAFC visited the Galaxy. If that match is any indication, the club will be fortunate to survive through games. Ciman wasn't in the 18-man roster given rumors of a transfer situation. Without Ciman, LAFC turned to newcomer Danilo Silva. The Galaxy dominated the first-half of the game, unlucky to score just once. Meanwhile, Silva left the match injured, replaced by Dejan Jakovic. LAFC and the Galaxy tied 1-1, but the defense was hardly inspiring.
Silva’s long-term prognosis is unknown. Even if he is healthy enough to step in for Ciman full-time, he is a step down from the outgoing captain. Jakovic is an option as well. The Croatian-born Jakovic played with DC United from 2009-13 and spent time in Japan and the NASL before joining LAFC in the offseason. Jakovic though has played more than 2,000 minutes in MLS just once, in his first season nearly a decade ago.
LAFC may disagree with this take on their defense. They had a choice and made it. Maybe the club doesn't consider the move quite the gamble. What reworking the defense in late August does create is a question about their earlier moves. Namely, adding Christian Ramirez to an already loaded attack.
Ramirez is a fantastic player who has already paid dividends for the club, scoring twice in 225 minutes played. He's also part of a team with plenty of attacking options. He's fighting for playing time with Carlos Vela, Diego Rossi, Adama Diomande, Latif Blessing, and Marco Urena. Forward depth is great to have, but the front office’s decision to land another striker instead of addressing the center back situation is questionable.
To be fair, the team did acquire Silva during the summer. However, the depth with him as the starter now is shaky. There's also the matter of that captain's armband.
Ciman was the heart of the team. Aside from providing the intangibles and leadership expected of any captain, Ciman also gave the team some big moments. He scored LAFC’s first-ever goal at Banc of California Stadium. He was on pace to become an MLS Defender of the Year nominee and had the chance to win that honor for the second time in his career. Already Ciman had scored three goals, one more than as many as he had scored in three seasons with the Impact.
LAFC will face many challenging moments in their eight games remaining and whatever postseason games the team will play in if any. While opponents will do their best to make things difficult, the front office has provided the club the most troubling obstacle of all.
Luis Bueno is a veteran soccer writer. Follow him on twitter @BuenoSoccer.
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