MONTREAL—The Montreal Impact didn’t beat the Seattle Sounders on Saturday night, Laurent Ciman did.
At least it seemed that way as the 30-year-old Belgium international moved about the field, breaking up Seattle’s attacks with one perfect intervention after another, spurring the Impact forward with brave runs from central defence, winning the all-important free kick deep in the Sounders’ end in the 88th minute after trying to dance around a defender, and then scoring the ensuing goal, the only goal of the game, with a strong, perfectly placed header.
He was named man-of-the-match, but it sometimes felt like he was the only man playing.
“I don’t want to praise him too much,” forward Domenic Oduro said jokingly after the game, “but he was fantastic tonight.”
The Sounders were missing their best attacking players—Clint Dempsey, Obafemi Martins, Marco Pappa—so Ciman’s job was made significantly easier. But it was still nonetheless an excellent performance and it’s not for the first time that he’s dazzled the Montreal fans—by the end of the game, they were chanting his name in adulation.
Ciman was deservedly called up to this week’s MLS All-Star game in Colorado, where he will likely play a starting role against Tottenham. With performances like the one against Seattle, Ciman has shown in his first season in MLS that he’s the best central defender in the league.
There isn’t even a close second.
“He’s basically in his prime right now,” defender Donny Toia remarked. “He’s so solid defensively and you saw tonight that he gets up on headers and he can score goals as well. I think it’s a great pickup.”
Impact coach Frank Klopas also lauded Ciman’s offensive ability.
“Obviously with the ball he’s very comfortable,” Klopas said. “He’s a very experienced player; he jumps very well; he’s a weapon for us on set pieces.”
Retaining Ciman in Montreal through the entirety of his five-year deal could, however, prove difficult. He’s only here because his daughter Nina is suffering from autism and the Impact haven’t come through on their promise that they would help him get access to special medical treatment, something Ciman expressed disappointment over in public.
And if Ciman ever decided that he no longer wanted to stay, there certainly wouldn’t be a lack of suitors as he’s shown that his ability is really above the level of MLS.
“You can see that he’s played in Europe, but he’s still young and at the top of his game,” midfielder Marco Donadel said. “He’s so important for us, because he plays the ball really well and he’s really tough in coverage. Sometimes he almost seems like a forward.”
The Impact need to do everything to keep Ciman happy. Saturday’s performance was yet another example of how indispensable he is to this team.
Nick Sabetti is a Montreal-based writer. Follow him on Twitter