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LISTEN: There's no better way to prepare for the MLS All-Star Game presented by Target than interviews with Graham Zusi (SKC), Michael Parkhurst (ATL), Kellyn Acosta (DAL), Greg Garza (ATL) and Jelle Van Damme (LA)! Subscribe now so you never miss a show! Download this episode!
CHICAGO – The 2017 MLS All-Star Game presented by Target won’t be Jelle Van Damme’s first clash with Real Madrid; the Belgian carries vivid memories of a visit to the mighty Estadio Santiago Bernabeu for a Champions League encounter during his time with RSC Anderlecht.
“It’s an exhibition, but these kinds of games, you can’t turn off,” the LA Galaxy defender said after the All-Stars’ Monday-morning training session at Flames Field on the University of Illinois-Chicago campus. “This is one of the best teams in the world, so you don’t want to get embarrassed. We have to stay focused and be sharp.”
Van Damme is hungry to make positive memories during Wednesday’s showcase at Soldier Field (8:30pm ET | FS1, Univision; TSN, TVAS) – but he admits that it could possibly be one of his final occasions as an MLS player.
The Galaxy’s hard-nosed center back confirmed to MLSsoccer.com that there’s some validity to Belgian media reports linking him to a return to his home country, with Royal Antwerp the most prominent among several clubs that have shown interest.
It’s not for professional reasons, but personal ones that strike close to home.
“There’s a few teams in Belgium that know my situation. I don’t know. It’s a hard call,” said Van Damme, whose wife, former professional tennis player Elke Clijsters, and their two children have remained in Belgium since his move to the Galaxy in January 2016.
“If I think about myself, I’m good in LA. If I think about my kids, I just want to go back,” he explained. “I know it got all in the press in Belgium and the clubs in Belgium know my situation, my team knows the situation – [LA] always respected my situation and they helped me out wherever they could. But I feel the second year is getting harder and harder.”
Living half a world away from his son Cruz and daughter Cleo has taken a heavy emotional toll on Van Damme, leading him to consider his future despite LA making what he sees as a positive start to life under new coach Sigi Schmid.
“My kids are 6 and 7, they are at a certain point of age – whenever they call, when they tell you ‘I miss you, I need you,’ and you have FaceTime calls while they are crying. It’s hard,” said Van Damme. “So it’s something I consider, yes. There’s a few teams in Belgium that show interest. That’s pretty much all I can say now. I can probably say more in a few more days.”