Laurent Ciman anchors LAFC’s back line while Bob Bradley waits on return of injured players

Bob Bradley was in teaching mode Wednesday.

So three days after coaching the Los Angeles Football Club to a gutsy win over Seattle in the first game in franchise history, Bradley stood in the middle of a training field at UCLA, waving his arms like a traffic cop as players hung tight to his instructions.

A few minutes later he strode to the sidelines and imparted wisdom of a different kind. The MLS season is just one game old and already Bradley has scratched one player because of injury, saw another enter the final week of the preseason with his status uncertain while a third hasn’t practiced in more than a month.

How can a coach mold so many question marks into a starting lineup?


“You’re reading too much into it,” Bradley said.

Defender Walker Zimmerman, the player who was pulled from Sunday’s starting lineup just minutes before kickoff, was benched with a tight hamstring.

“At the end of the day, that was a smart decision for me and for the team,” said Zimmerman, who did not train Wednesday, jogging lightly around the field instead. He could miss Saturday’s game in Salt Lake City as well.

Winger Omar Gaber, who missed the entire preseason with a groin injury, is also out. And with both, Bradley is preaching patience over promptness.

“That’s the best thing now,” he said.

But with Laurent Ciman, the player who appeared questionable for the opener after missing more than two weeks of training to a knee issue, Bradley said his availability was never in doubt.

“Mentally, physically was excited to start,” Bradley said. “That was easy.”

Ciman made sure there was no reason to second-guess that decision, playing a spectacular game in central defense, preventing one sure goal with a sliding deflection and breaking up several other dangerous Seattle chances to preserve goalkeeper Tyler Miller’s first regular-season shutout.

“I was always playing,” Ciman, a Belgian international, said through a translator. “I said to Bob when I came back to training, if I’m good to train it’s because I’m good to play. If I train, I play.”

And if Ciman plays, he also leads, wearing the captain’s armband on his right bicep above the protective wrap he wore on his balky right knee.

“Laurent is a warrior,” Bradley said. “He was very energetic. He was positive with guys and takes real pride in leadership.”

He didn’t often get a chance to show that last year in Montreal, where he started a career-high 30 games for a team in transition. After matching a franchise record by giving up 58 goals, the Impact cleaned house last fall, changing coaches and remaking its roster.

Ciman, 32, was one of those sent packing when he was traded to LAFC less than two weeks before Christmas. And after some initial disappointment, he has come to embrace the opportunity to build something new in L.A.

“In Montreal, at the end of last year, I lost a little bit of confidence of the staff,” said Ciman, who believes his performance suffered as a result.

“Here I feel that my own people trust me. I feel I have the confidence of the staff.”

His pairing with Zimmerman at center back was expected to be a strength on a team searching for early-season chemistry. The two played just 45 minutes together in the preseason, though, and may not team up again for another three weeks.

Like Ciman, Zimmerman is looking for a fresh start with LAFC after his relationship with the FC Dallas coaching staff hit the skids last summer. After missing a month with a strained MCL in his left knee, Zimmerman, 24, found himself benched for all but 19 minutes of the team’s final five games. As a result, he also welcomed a December trade to L.A.

So after being pulled from the lineup just before the first game in LAFC history, he’s holding tight to Bradley’s advice not to read too much into that.

“I’m not going to discuss timelines but I would say I’m not too worried about it,” he said of his return. “We’re always looking at the long haul and the long season. For me, it was just trying to take the emotion out of it. [It] was the first game in club history and everyone wants to be a part of it.

“But it’s a long season. The mentality we all want to take at this club is to make sure that we’re there for the long season and the playoffs.”

Follow Kevin Baxter on Twitter @kbaxter11