LA's Jelle Van Damme ready for battle vs. Fanendo Adi: "He can test me"

Jelle Van Damme - LA Galaxy - March 2016

CARSON, Calif. – It's the marquee match within the match in Saturday afternoon's nationally televised match between the Portland Timbers and LA Galaxy on ESPN (3:30 pm ET): 6-foot-4 Timbers target striker Fanendo Adi vs. 6-foot-3 LA Galaxy center back Jelle Van Damme.

“He [Adi] can test me. He can try. I like challenges,” the Belgian Van Damme told on Thursday. 

The two have actually already gone head-to-head twice before. The first meeting came on April 10 with Adi scoring a goal and registering a total of three shots in a 1-1 tie at StubHub Center. In fairness to Van Damme, Adi beat LA midfielder Nigel de Jong on the shot that resulted in the goal in that first league match. 

Van Damme and the Galaxy earned the shutout the second time around, a 1-0 LA road victory in a US Open Cup Round of 16 knockout match. Adi came off the bench for the final 24 minutes as the Timbers attempted to salvage the result.

Heading into Saturday’s clash with Portland, LA’s defense has been miserly. Their 18 goals allowed in league play represent the second fewest in the league and the team coached by Bruce Arena has five shutouts in their last seven matches in all competitions. Four of those clean sheets came in consecutive fashion with Van Damme featuring prominently.

“He [Van Damme] is a tough defender,” LA veteran midfielder Jeff Larentowicz said of his teammate. “I think his box defending is probably the best on the team. He’s strong in the air. His 1-v-1 defending is very good. All the attributes you want in a center back, especially in this league where you’re going to face big forwards and talented teams.”

When asked about whether or not the former Ajax defender should have been selected to the MLS All Star squad, Arena said he had no problems with the All-Star roster or the selection process, but that “Van Damme is certainly a player that can be viewed as an All-Star in this league.”

He may only have 16 MLS matches under his belt, but Van Damme is thoroughly enjoying his first season in the league.

“I like it. I didn’t know what to expect when I came here,” Van Damme said of his new surroundings. “I saw a few games of last season. I like the way it goes, so I’m pretty happy here. I like the level, I like this club as well.”

If anyone knows a good defender when he sees one, it’s Galaxy forward Robbie Keane. The Irishman had high praise for Van Damme, but was quick to point out that the entire defensive unit deserves credit for battening down the hatches in recent weeks.

“Him [Van Damme] and Daniel Steres have been tremendous,” Keane said of the team's center backs. They’re players that just want to defend and actually enjoy defending.

"Listen, it’s not just them two. AJ [DeLaGarza], the whole back four, Ashley [Cole] when he’s in there. Dave Romney’s done a good job. [Goalkeeper] Brian Rowe has been great. It’s been a real team effort, so full credit to them.”