Van Damme shows his aggressive side in his first showing for LA Galaxy.
Carson, CA – The LA Galaxy faced off against a Mexican opponent in their second public preseason game on Tuesday night at StubHub Center. And while the score remained 0-0, the bite in defense was provided by one of the LA Galaxy’s newest acquisitions, Jelle Van Damme.
Towering over the smaller, less seasoned, Club Tijuana, Van Damme commanded a newly created back line of Ashley Cole, Leonardo and Robbie Rogers. He organized from the back and when necessary exploded to the ball in his 65 minutes of solid, exciting play.
Van Damme played with the confidence of a man who knows his job and it was most evident with his calm presence under pressure and his commandeering attitude of the space around him. It was also the link up play with Ashley Cole, another first time debutant for the Galaxy, that had the defense settling in nicely.
“It’s good. We understand each other. As defenders you need to speak a lot and help each other out, and with Ashley as well. You need to talk a lot and I like to talk. It’s always a good feeling for the fans to have a clean sheet.” Jelle Van Damme, LA Galaxy Defender
But for an LA Galaxy defense that lacked any real physicality in 2015, the new look to this back line should be a welcome change to most who follow the team. Sure with the addition of Nigel De Jong, who has yet to join his new club (Bruce said to expect him by Wednesday), it was almost understood that the physicality would be ratcheted up. But Ashley Cole and Jelle Van Damme both had crushing tackles that would make even De Jong think twice about being a participant.
“I think you saw it for yourself. They (Ashley Cole and Jelle Van Damme) were settled. They settled in for us very quickly. You could see the team is starting to get in a bit of a rhythm and we’re only two games in. But we need to get those minutes in because we have a big game in two weeks’ time.” Robbie Keane, LA Galaxy Striker / Captain
He seems to be good from both feet when playing out of the back and his vision even allows for an almost breakaway that was started by hold-up play from Robbie Keane. If it wasn’t for a retaliatory foul from Tijuana, Van Damme could’ve been in on goal from the half line. It’s not where you’d expect a 6 foot 3 inch, 198 pound defender to end up, but it may be a sign of things to come. He’s not afraid to be in an attacking role and his soccer mind allows for that possibility.
And set pieces could provide another way toward goal for the LA Galaxy. With AJ DeLaGarza nursing a foot injury he sustained in the closed-door match against Toronto FC, Leonardo joined Van Damme in the Center. Having two tall, physical defenders available for launching attempts at goal could allow the Galaxy to put numbers on the board, especially with the CONCACAF Champions’ League just around the corner and the team, so far, struggling to put much on goal.
But with all the crushing tackles and overt aggressiveness it will be left to wonder whether Van Damme could be too eager to slide into tackles or run through attacking players. He earned a yellow card in just the 37th minute for one such play and you’d have to expect that’s just a small sign of things to come. With Ashley Cole also sliding into tackles and Nigel De Jong’s reputation for wrecking opponents, it’s probably a safe assumption that LA will not be collecting MLS’ “Fair Play Award” at the end of the season.
And with the potential for so many yellow cards, the Galaxy may also have to get used to playing without Van Damme as suspensions could follow. But ultimately, for now, the Galaxy have a severe physicality to them. If you’re any of the teams early opponents you may think twice about going up for a header or lunging into a tackle when going up against an express train like Jelle Van Damme.