MONTREAL – When Laurent Ciman signed with the Montreal Impact on January 22, 2015, he was not exactly a celebrity in North American soccer circles.
A month later, his first opponents on the continent tried to get him sent off.
Ciman’s importance was already evident to Pachuca players in that CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal series. Now, anyone who follows MLS understands just how vital Ciman is to Montreal. With his help, Montreal conceded 14 fewer goals than in 2014 on the way to the Eastern Conference semifinals.
By the way, while Pachuca may not have succeeded, MLS opponents did: Ciman tied a dubious MLS record by being ejected three times during the 2015 regular season.
When he's on the field, though, there's no doubting he's indispensible for Montreal, so here are 10 facts on the reigning MLS Defender of the Year:
A perfect sendoff
After committing to the Montreal Impact – after only two weeks of negotiating – Ciman played his last game for his beloved Standard Liege three days later against rivals Anderlecht. Not only did his Standard career end in winning fashion, but Ciman also tallied the game-winner, volleying the ball in from a free kick.
It is well-known that Ciman moved to North America in large part to seek better care for his daughter Nina, who lives with autism. Ciman’s family is, in fact, the center of his universe. Ask him what his pregame ritual is, and he’ll answer, “Nothing in particular; just enjoy my family’s company,” as he did during a webchat with RDS.
Involved with the community
Ciman has only been in Montreal for a year, but he’s already taken well to his new surroundings and has even extended his contract through 2018. His daughter’s story garnered much sympathy from the general public, and he’s eager to repay them. This coming September, Ciman will be honorary president of the “Salon de l’autisme TSA du Québec,” an autism show that will bring together 100 exhibitors from across the province.
When in Rome …
Ciman played a bit of roller hockey as a kid in Belgium. But upon landing in Montreal, he set about discovering the real thing: the Montreal Canadiens. RDS invited him to a game in March 2015, and Ciman has since become a fan, citing the Bell Centre as one of his favorite spots in the city and retweeting Canadiens players. It’s just a shame that he lost his wife Diana to the team mascot, “Youppi!”
Some players become on-air analysts upon leaving the game. Ciman didn’t wait. He regularly appears on the Complètement Foot radio talk show on Sunday nights, delivering his insights on his new team, his new league and Belgian football. The three hosts are even making the trip to Montreal for the Impact’s home opener on March 12, bringing along two lucky listeners.
Ciman isn’t your typical, stay-at-home central defender. He’ll leave his base position, applying pressure to opponents or joining the midfield in the attacking phase. Midfield was actually his home for some time, when he was younger: Ciman told RDS that he once played in front of the defense, as a No. 6.
Belgian scout in MLS
Belgium hasn’t provided MLS with a ton of players, and Ciman is already its greatest export here. But his international teammate Jan Vertonghen, who played in the 2015 AT&T MLS All-Star Game with Tottenham Hotspur, told Le Journal de Montréal that Ciman could become a scout of sorts for Belgian players looking to come to MLS. “I hope he’ll open the door for Belgian players,” Vertonghen said. “He deserves everything that’s happened to him.”
Belgium remain first in the FIFA World Rankings, ahead of Argentina and Spain. Ciman was part of the Belgium team that reached the 2014 FIFA World Cup quarterfinals in Brazil, where he shared a locker room with the likes of Vincent Kompany, Kevin de Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku. But, Ciman says, the best player he’s ever played with is Eden Hazard, who also happens to share a special bond with one Didier Drogba. Cue Montreal fans dreaming …
That Damme good
The LA Galaxy’s Jelle Van Damme showed some of what he’s capable of in the CONCACAF Champions League against Santos Laguna. But if anyone in these parts was a fan of Van Damme’s before that, it was Ciman; the two players were teammates at Standard Liège from 2011-15. When Van Damme was dropped for a 2-0 Standard loss at Westerlo, last October, Ciman was shocked. “Maybe it’s not my job to say it, but a player like Jelle Van Damme, even if he’s not been at his best in recent weeks, has to be on the field,” Ciman told Complètement foot. “He’s the guy that will drive the team forward and show his determination to win from beginning to end.”
With his assured performances on the field and eagerness to be a leader from the moment he donned the Impact blue, Ciman endeared himself to the supporters. The supporters, in turn, bestowed a nickname upon Ciman: “Le Général.” He has embraced it. “I love the movie Gladiator,” Ciman said earlier this year. “It’s an honor for me.”