By: Marco D'Onofrio
In a league with a salary cap, most teams tend to reserve their funds or allocated Designated Player spots on strikers and midfielders. Players whose name will garner international headlines, find the back of the net, and have merchandise flying off the shelves. But defense is often neglected.
The Montreal Impact caused quite a stir across the globe when they signed Ivorian legend, Didier Drogba, in August, but little attention was paid when they brought in the 2015 MLS Defender of the Year, Laurent Ciman.
Despite being a Belgian international, and someone who was on the country's 2014 World Cup squad in Brazil, Ciman's move across the pond was a relatively quiet one.
However, the 30-year-old was a big reason why the Impact had such a successful 2015. The league's worst team last year, managed to make the CONCACAF Champions League final, finish third in the conference during the regular season, and pull off the franchise's first ever MLS playoff berth.
What makes Ciman an even more important acquisition for Montreal was the fact that they were able to sign him without making him a Designated Player. The Belgian decided that playing in North America was the right decision for family reasons, with his autistic daughter finally able to get proper healthcare. Playing in a city that is also prominently French was just icing on the cake.
However, leaving Belgian club, Standard Liege, was not an easy decision for the defender, who had been with the club since 2010. He had been enjoying his time with Standard Liege, and even won a Belgian Cup in 2011.
“But I had to go, for my daughter,” Ciman said in June. “That’s it.”
Truth is, Canada and the United States can offer a quality of life that many countries in Europe or South America simply can't. Montreal provided Ciman an opportunity to continue his dream of playing professional soccer, but also ensuring that his family is taken care of.
As a result of Ciman's brilliance in his first MLS campaign, other clubs across MLS are sure to be looking overseas for a quality defender as well. However, as Toronto FC discovered this year with Ahmed Kantari, just because someone played in one of Europe's top leagues, doesn't necessarily mean he'll be the right fit for the team or MLS.
Ciman is a true pioneer, opting to come to North America in the prime of his career, and without a massive Designated Player contract. While Drogba will continue to have the eyes of the world on him next year, Ciman will be the quiet pillar at the back that the Montreal Impact so desperately need.