The LA Galaxy announced that last year’s best player, Jelle Van Damme, has signed a contract extension with the club. His contract — the terms were unannounced —  will make him one of the team’s three designated players (Giovani dos Santos, and newly signed Romain Alessandrini as the other two) and should see the Belgian receive a significant raise. Last year, according to the MLS Players Union, Van Damme earned a total of 468,750 in Guaranteed Compensation.

“Jelle showed last season that he is undoubtedly one of the best defenders in Major League Soccer,” said LA Galaxy General Manager, Pete Vagenas. And the stats from the previous season probably prove that out.

Van Damme was a staple in the Galaxy’s robust defense in 2016. He played and started in 32 games (including the postseason), compiled over 2,700 minutes, tallied five assists, and was generally the unluckiest person in front of goal for the LA (there are several posts and about three saves of the week included in that). He was the leading force behind a Galaxy defense that gave up just 39 goals and listed itself as having conceded the third-fewest goals in MLS during the 2016 season.

He was also a finalist for the League’s Defender of the Year and was given the team award for LA Galaxy’s Defender of the Year while just missing the fan vote for the Galaxy’s ‘Player of the Year’ award — an award he should have won easily. He was simply the most dangerous player on either side of the ball for LA and his leadership on and off the field garnered the support of his teammates and has endeared him to the fans.

Stats from MLSSoccer.com

While Van Damme will use up a Designated Players spot, it will not tie the Galaxy’s hands together should another summer acquisition become available. Under MLS rules a Designated Player is able to have his contract bought down using Targeted Allocation Money (TAM). In this case, the Galaxy chose to make Van Damme a designated player but his total salary probably won’t exceed the $1 million dollar cap that TAM rules allow.

“His (Van Damme) contract will still give us more flexibility to bolster our roster during the summer.” Pete Vagenas, LA Galaxy General Manager

There is an exception that says a midyear triggering of the DP buy-down can take place for a Designated Player whose total salary doesn’t exceed $1.5 million, but the Galaxy would be painting themselves into a corner with a number so high and a contract that is probably going to last the next couple of years. They would need to count on more TAM being available and know they’d have the ability to pay a large portion of it to Van Damme.

And with Vagenas stating that “his contract will still give us more flexibility to bolster our roster during the summer,” it would seem to indicate that flexibility down the road is still intact and that the team may have their heart set on another DP entering the picture during the summer transfer period.

This move to make Van Damme a DP might also be financially beneficial as well. Van Damme will play the first half of the season under the DP pay rules. Those rules allow a max cap hit of approximately $481,000 with the team directly paying for the remainder of the salary above the cap. No TAM will be used to alter that number. If the Galaxy

If the Galaxy choose to buy-down his DP status they must then pay a prorated amount of TAM to bring his salary to the Max budget — that $481,000 number. It reduces the amount of TAM by half and allows that money to be used on other players for a 12 month period instead of it being hogged by Van Damme. See an example below.

In the example above, the Galaxy would get to save $260,000 in TAM money. This is money they can now spend on other players over 12 months instead of using that TAM to only pay Van Damme. It makes more than a little sense and is an astute use of the rules.

The LA Galaxy have gone through a very significant shift in the age of their squad following the conclusion of the 2016 season. They’ve seen coaches, coaching staffs, and veteran players all depart the club in a “cost effective” shift that has enabled them to get much younger and probably a lot less expensive.

LA have added two significant pieces in the last couple of weeks signing Portugues midfielder, João Pedro and, Designated Player, French Midfielder, Romain Alessandrini. Van Damme’s contract extension only adds to the good news that has been coming out of Carson.

For his part Van Damme will now hold down the role of veteran and as a guy who’s made the international transition to flourish in Major League Soccer. It’s something that he should be able to explain to Pedro and Alessandrini who must also adapt to their new environment.

Head Coach Curt Onalfo, must find a way to get the same level of effort and play out of Van Damme in 2017. Hoping that 2016 wasn’t just simply a player finding his legs in a new place and living off the adrenaline that provides. Van Damme will need to be the same voracious and technical defender who has a penchant for going on long runs and generally scaring the opposition into submission. He’ll need to be an asset to the club on both sides of set pieces. And more than likely, he’ll need to be a leader to a team that skews significantly younger.

The Galaxy will open their season on March 4, 2017, when they host reigning Supporters’ Shield Champs, FC Dallas to StubHub Center.

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