LOS ANGELES -- After selecting two defenders among their five picks in the expansion draft, LAFC have quickly turned them into one, trading Jukka Raitala and Raheem Edwards to Montreal Impact for Belgian international defender Laurent Ciman.
“Laurent is a top defender who provides leadership and great distribution,” LAFC coach Bob Bradley said of the trade. “His experience in the league and with the Belgian national team will be invaluable as we build the club.”
Ciman signed for the Impact in 2015 after nearly five seasons with Belgian juggernaut Standard Liege, in a move that owed no small part to the medical needs of his daughter.
But instead of falling out of the national team picture in MLS, Ciman flourished. He was named MLS Defender of the Year in his first season as well as being called in for the 2016 MLS All-Star Game. His performances during the same period earned him a spot in Belgium’s Euro 2016 team, after serving as an unused substitute during Les Diables Rouges World Cup 2014 campaign in Brazil.
Earlier, LAFC’s first-ever coach fielded questions about the club’s attack-minded player acquisition strategy that has seen them sign strikers Carlos Vela and Rodrigo Pacheco, and select attackers Latif Blessing (Sporting Kansas City) and Marco Ureña (San José Earthquakes) in the Expansion Draft.
“We’ve got a bunch of guys so far that are talented attacking players that people will enjoy watching,” Bradley said of the offense-first approach. “I want to have a team that when people come watch, they see something they can’t wait to come back again.”
Yet as enthusiastic as the club seemed to be with their selections, the scene on Tuesday during an 80-degree December day at LAFC’s downtown headquarters remained tense. The gold smoke — provided by LAFC support group the 3252 — hadn’t yet cleared when trade murmurs began swirling among onlookers that included supporters, executives, sponsors, reporters and television personalities.
“As often happens when a deadline approaches there is a movement in the water at the last minute,” said club GM John Thorrington. “We were prepared for it.”
The club only had Raitala and Edwards for an afternoon before sending them to Montreal. Thorrington, who himself was an expansion draft pick in 2010 by the Vancouver Whitecaps, expressed sensitivity toward all the players involved in the swap.
“Those are two players that would be great for us and we just have to make the difficult decision about how we can make our team better,” he added. “It’s no coincidence that Montreal sees great value in the them. We do too.”
Ciman joins former FC Dallas defender Walker Zimmerman on the club’s defensive books, along with young goalkeeper Tyler Miller, who came from MLS Cup runners-up Seattle Sounders.
“It’s not an easy position to fill with two top targets,” Thorrington said of his two center backs. “When you look at the pair, I think they complement each other really well.”