LOS ANGELES – LAFC are still honing their identity, but much of that is tied to the explosive attacking talent Bob Bradley puts on the field, with the likes of Carlos Vela, Diego Rossi and Marcos Ureña, for starters.
Add Laurent Ciman to the list.
Considered one of Major League Soccer's premier backliners since winning the league's Defender of the Year honor in his first North American campaign three years ago, the Belgian center back has doubled his MLS goal total in the past two games, and Sunday's strike to beat the Seattle Sounders in LAFC's Banc of California Stadium debut will be remembered as long as this club is kicking.
The wobbling free kick from about 32 yards three minutes into second-half stoppage took the slightest of deflections and got some help from a sneaky Ureña run that screened Stefan Frei, who got his hand to the shot but couldn't keep it out of the net, sending a sellout crowd of 22,000 into hysterics and providing a very special day its signature moment.
“[Scoring goals] wasn't something that we picked up on when we brought him here,” Bradley said afterward. “We picked up on his leadership, [that] he plays with emotion, passion. When you play out of the back, he's a guy who can make passes, so you have all those things. He's been great since he arrived.
“He's a good leader, so now the fact that he's been able to tack on some goals, it's extra.”
Ciman, LAFC's captain, scored just twice in 85 regular-season games for the Impact, plus another in the 2016 Knockout-Round MLS Cup Playoffs win at D.C. United. But he's long been a set-piece specialist who can make things happen on the attack.
“He stepped up to the ball, and, obviously, we saw what he did in Montreal,” said Walker Zimmerman, Ciman's partner in the back. “We see what he does messing around on the practice facility, so we know there's always a chance. You're still kind of saying, 'OK, this is probably a low-percentage chance, can he make this?' And as soon as he hit it, I thought, 'That looks pretty good.”
Ciman thought so, too, but he took the moment in stride.
“There was no strategy,” he said in French. “I saw the positioning of some of the players, and I felt it was a good chance to go for goal. Based on the last game and what I'm doing now, I felt I had to go for it, and I didn't question it too much. The ball traveled and went in, and I said, 'Good.' ”
It capped a superb game by the 32-year-old, who marshaled an outstanding backline performance by LAFC in a defensive struggle that warranted the 0-0 scoreline that held until the final seconds. He and Zimmerman, especially, limited Will Bruin's and Clint Dempsey's effectiveness and neutralized Nico Lodeiro's influence.
Goalkeeper Tyler Miller came up big a couple of times, and right back Steven Beitashour cleared a net-bound Alex Roldan header off the goal line. Ciman made one of the more vital defensive plays, bicycling a bouncing ball waiting for Bruin to finish after falling to the turf.
“He goes to ground well, so he wins some balls that look like they aren't possible to win, and he gets there,” Zimmerman said. “He's great at covering, in that aspect, and making some big-time plays and defensive stops.”
Said midfielder Benny Feilhaber: “That's what he's all about, making plays.”
It's more important that he make them at the defensive end, but his work with the ball – passing out of the back, long balls to spread the field and his set-piece work – provides greater dimension to LAFC's attack. It meant so much on Sunday.
“The goal in Montreal was nicer,” Ciman said of his first-half rocket to the upper-left corner at Stade Saputo. “I realize the goalkeeper maybe did a little bit of a mistake today, but at the end of the day, you have to try to go to goal, and that's what I did.”