It has been made official. Jelle Van Damme is on his way out of LA.
The Galaxy announced on Friday that they have transferred Van Damme to Belgian first division club Royal Antwerp so as to allow him to return home to be with his family. Van Damme told LA earlier this summer that he wanted to be closer to his two children.
A finalist for the 2016 Defender of the Year and Newcomer of the Year awards, Van Damme was excellent in his first year in LA, but has had an up-and-down 2017. Despite playing only 18 of the Galaxy’s 23 games, the 33-year-old had the most yellow (8) and red cards (3) in MLS prior to his departure. LA’s defense has also struggled as a unit, allowing 42 goals, fifth-most in the league.
The Galaxy will miss their captain, but with this season already looking like a loss – LA are in ninth in the West, nine points behind the playoff line with just 11 games remaining – it made sense to let him go back to Belgium.
His departure also leaves the Galaxy, who signed Van Damme to an extension of undisclosed length in February, with a bit of extra cap space and Targeted Allocation Money heading into 2018.
They’ll need to put that to good use, with center back a glaring position of need. LA do apparently have a replacement lined up already, with ESPN’s Julie Stewart-Binks reporting on Thursday that the team was close to finalizing a deal with free agent French center back Michael Ciani.
Ciani, 33, has over a decade of experience in the French, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish top flights, and played and started 25 games for Ligue 1 side Lorient last year. Assuming his deal gets completed, he’ll likely slot in as an immediate starter next to Daniel Steres in the middle of the Galaxy’s back four. The terms of his potential contract haven’t been reported, but, even if he’s on a short-term deal, head coach Sigi Schmid and GM Peter Vagenas should have more than enough time to evaluate whether or not Ciani is a good fit in LA heading into next season.
Finding the best fits for 2018 is what the rest of this year will likely be about for LA. The Galaxy have the talent to make a playoff push, but they’ll need to start ripping off wins and get some help from the teams ahead of them in order to have any shot at the postseason. With the path so unlikely, their primary goals should be to find some rhythm and consistency and further identify their needs for this winter. Letting Van Damme walk now is a good way to start down that path.
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