Laurent Ciman - LAFC - celebrates winning goal vs. Seattle
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Where do LAFC go without Laurent Ciman?

When lineups were released for the third installment of El Trafico last week, there was one notable omission: Laurent Ciman.

During the game, reports began to proliferate that LAFC would have to get used to playing without their captain, as Ciman's exit from the club was likely. On Tuesday, LAFC confirmed those reports by announcing Ciman's transfer to French Ligue 1 side Dijon.

When the reports first broke, it was certainly surprising: Ciman had played the second-most minutes for the club this season, had embraced a leadership role and was one of their top performers.

With LAFC excelling in their expansion season, the decision was initially perplexing. But, as more reports broke suggesting an impasse over a potential new deal for Ciman, whose contract expired after this season, it began to make more sense. Once the search for common ground between the two sides over the 33-year-old's contract proved futile, an amicable solution was found; back to Europe it would be for the 2018 All-Star and 2015 MLS Defender of the Year.

But with just eight matches remaining in the season, how do Bob Bradley's side replace their captain? 

Ciman was an integral member of the team, their leader and part of the club's vital core alongside Carlos Vela, Benny Feilhaber, Diego Rossi, Walker Zimmerman and others. He was even the surprise first goalscorer at the Banc of California Stadium, a game-winning free kick against the Seattle Sounders.

LAFC are being forced to reconfigure on the fly, as Ciman helped underpin Bradley's tactical enterprise. With a team that plays so aggressively, it is imperative their defenders are capable of defending in space and are comfortable on the ball. Ciman's skillset meshed perfectly with Bradley's vision.

In the interim, Danilo Silva can slot straight into the lineup in Ciman's absence. It's how Bradley arranged his team against the Galaxy without Ciman, though Silva came off injured after 27 minutes and was replaced by Dejan Jakovic, another option to jump right into the starting XI.

Silva has acclimated himself to LAFC well, looking solid across his first four starts. He has played like a 'lite' version of Ciman: tidy on the ball, comfortable defending in space. The defense will be boosted by midfielder Eduard Atuesta's increased minutes as well.

Should Silva's injury hiatus prove to be lengthy, or Jakovic becomes unavailable at any time, LAFC will be dangerously thin in the center of defense – those two plus Zimmerman are the only specialist center backs on the roster at present. Joao Moutinho looks the most likely member of the fullback corps to deputize centrally, though the club recalled rookie defender Tristan Blackmon from his loan stint at USL side Phoenix Rising FC on Wednesday, giving Bradley more options in the back. 

It's something they should be able to deal with for the next two months, though the situation would be untenable for a full season.

In possession, Ciman was more comfortable on the ball than the average defender. He was second on the team in passes per game and scored three goals in Black & Gold.

Despite the team being overstocked in attacking quality, Ciman took many of the free kicks. With how purely he could strike a ball, the decision was an easy one. Now, Bradley will have to re-think the strategy because who else in the league, let alone on the roster, is a genuine scoring threat on a free kick from 40 yards out?

They can take more freekicks short in the 30- to 40-yard range and the smart money would be on Vela, Rossi, Feilhaber and Lee Nguyen to divvy up duties from 25 yards and in. 

LAFC will miss Ciman for the rest of the season and playoff stretch, for sure. But Bradley's side looks well equipped to navigate their remaining games without the Belgian international and continue their chase for MLS Cup.

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