When Laurent Ciman decided to leave Belgium for MLS four seasons ago, there was only one city where he considered playing: Montreal, where his autistic daughter, Nina, could get specialized care that wasn’t available at home.
And she could get treatment in French, the language she was most comfortable speaking.
So he passed up hundreds of thousands of dollars to leave Europe for Canada, loyalty the Impact eventually rewarded with a contract extension and, according to Ciman, a pledge he wouldn’t be traded. So Ciman set down roots, built a house and would eventually have a son with his wife, Diana.
Then last fall, after the team changed coaches and changed philosophies, the Impact surprised Ciman by trading him across the continent to one of the most distant MLS franchises, the expansion Los Angeles Football Club.
Ciman makes his first return to Montreal’s Saputo Stadium when LAFC plays its sixth consecutive road game on Saturday (YouTube TV, 10 a.m. PST).
“I’m trying to leave the emotional part on the side,” Ciman said through his translator, LAFC assistant coach Marc dos Santos, a Montreal native. “I’m a professional. If I start to focus on that, the game could go wrong for me.
“So I’m trying to forget about all of that and just look at it as another game.”
It’s clearly more than that since Ciman declined an invitation for a conference call with Montreal reporters. When he takes the field, the coach who traded him , Remi Garde, will be standing in front of the Impact bench.
“I know this game means a lot,” LAFC coach Bob Bradley said.
Bradley handed Ciman the captain’s armband at the beginning of the season and has relied on the veteran defender’s stability and on-field leadership. He doesn’t expect the homecoming to get the better of Ciman.
“Laurent’s experience, his passion, his commitment, those things will win out. I have complete confidence,” Bradley said.
Both teams have more at stake than personal vendettas. Montreal (2-4) is trying to turn around a slow start that has seen it drop its last two games by a combined score of 7-1. LAFC (3-2) is desperate to build momentum for next week’s inaugural home game after spending seven weeks of its first MLS season on the road.
Bradley’s team has shown flashes of brilliance, shutting out Seattle and Vancouver while blitzing Real Salt Lake 5-1. It has also displayed long periods of mediocrity, letting a 3-0 lead get away in a loss to the Galaxy, followed by a 5-0 loss in Atlanta.
Among the positives, Diego Rossi and Carlos Vela entered the weekend tied for third in the league in scoring with four goals each, while Rossi and Marcos Urena are second in assists with four apiece. Ciman has been one of the bright spots on defense, playing a team-leading 450 minutes.
So while he was once bitter about leaving Montreal, he said he’s happy to have found another home.
“This club is like a family and it’s something I was looking for,” he said. “The process of getting used to the club and the city has been fast and good.”
Follow Kevin Baxter on Twitter @kbaxter11