Toronto FC finally have their centre-back. After the worst defensive season in club history fans and media alike clamoured for the club to bring in some depth in the middle of the backline.
The club were able to tick a lot of boxes with the acquisition of Laurent Ciman. The 33-year-old Belgian centreback was acquired through the allocation order. Toronto FC made a couple of minor trades in order to secure the top spot.
Signing a defender of Ciman’s experience and age is a clear sign that TFC still believe they are in a window to win now.
It also continues to make a relatively old club older, which is something that has been bemoaned by fans after the success of the New York Red Bulls and Atlanta United this past season. Red Bull were the youngest club in the league, while Atlanta were the third youngest.
Toronto, however, still have three veteran designated players under contract for next season. They have players like Vazquez and Moor who could be playing their last season in 2019. It’s sensible for the club to go for it now, and then go younger in 2020.
They are banking on the fact that last year was a blip on the radar and that this core is still good enough to win trophies both domestically and abroad. If you look at the overall body of work, it is still a good bet to make.
In Ciman, Toronto FC have a player who can help them right away and for a variety of reasons. Firstly, he has plenty of experience both in MLS and also in the Concacaf Champions League after playing in a final with the Montreal Impact, not to mention being a Belgian international.
He isn’t quite the player that he was in 2015 when he won MLS defender of the year. But his numbers — although quantifying a defender is more difficult — still put him in a decent spot among MLS defenders.
Ciman also wore the armband for LAFC last season. Toronto FC already have a lot of leaders in the locker room, but last season proved that maybe they didn’t have quite as many as they would have liked.
He was also able to quickly adjust and excel in a brand-new backline, which should be a good sign for his integration into Toronto FC’s. In that regard, it is also helpful that Toronto FC were able to acquire Ciman early in the offseason. Last year saw Toronto bring in players fairly late in the window, something that probably didn’t help with Ager Aketxe fitting into the team.
How the Belgian fits into the Toronto FC setup will be interesting, seeing as can be a bit of a risk taker at times. He was dribbled past 1.6 times per game last season which was more than any regular Toronto defender.
But he makes up for that with excellent ball winning ability. He has a career average of 1.9 tackles and 3.3 interceptions per game according to Whoscored. He would have led Toronto FC centre-backs in both categories last season, and had the tenth most interceptions per game in the league.
He doesn’t necessarily contribute more to a game’s buildup than other TFC defenders, but he does so in a different way. His ability to play long-range passes could add a new element to the club’s attack, and help to get the team out of danger. Too often last year Toronto defenders were caught playing short passes out of the back.
Ciman also averaged more clearances per game than any Toronto defender last season, and he played more accurate long-balls than even Michael Bradley, with 6.9 per game. He does, however, attempt a lot more distanced passes than Toronto FC’s captain, so he is less accurate overall.
That accuracy from distance also makes Laurent Ciman a threat from free kicks. He scored a couple of fantastic goals for LAFC last season, although as Aketxe found out last year it is pretty difficult to get any chances to take set pieces with Sebastian Giovinco around.
There’s still plenty of work to be done to make sure last season does not repeat itself at BMO Field. But in the securing of Ciman, Toronto FC look to have taken a vital step towards solving its biggest issue.