Carson, CA. – Michael Ciani and Jorgen Skjelvik knew their partnership would take time, and their patience finally appears to have been rewarded.
The LA Galaxy’s central defenders were new to each other this season – Skjelvik arrived from Norway in mid-December while Ciani made a brief cameo last year – and there admittedly were some rough patches in a season that appeared to be going nowhere as recently as two games ago.
But back-to-back shutouts, the first for the five-time MLS Cup champions since October of 2016, not only have the Galaxy’s fortunes on the rise but Ciani and Skjelvik feeling proud to have helped fashion the sudden turnaround.
“It’s good for the confidence,” Ciani said after training Monday as the club prepared to face FC Dallas on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. at StubHub Center (SpectrumSN, Spectrum Deportes).
Ciani, 34, joined the Galaxy last September after a career in Europe that included stops in France’s Ligue 1, Spain’s La Liga and Italy’s Serie A. Schmid then found, in Norwegian side Rosenborg BK, the 26-year-old Skjelvik, who became MLS’ highest-paid defender at $1 million a season – Ciani, by the way, earns $620,000 – and the duo was expected to play a major role in shoring up a defense that allowed 67 goals in 2017, second to only the 70 allowed by Minnesota United.
There has been some rough going in 2018 – three consecutive 3-2 losses, for example – but the pairing now is paying some real dividends.
“Communication, movement, everything is better,” Skjelvik said of working with Ciani. “We’re starting to trust each other more, and that helps a lot.”
Ciani said it was only a matter of time before the twosome started clicking.
“Now we understand each other,” he said. “We talk more. Now I know how he plays, he knows how I play. It’s good now.
“He’s young and fast. He needs someone with experience next to him, and that’s what I’m trying to be on the pitch.”
Schmid said he likes what he has seen in his central defenders.
“It’s been good because they’ve been able to play a number of games together,” he said. “All that understanding, that familiarity. I think Jorgen is learning the league; he’s adjusting. It’s the same thing for Ciani.”
Schmid admitted he sometimes wondered if the combination might not work.
“I’m a coach, you’re always concerned,” he said with a grin. “That comes with the job. You’re always hoping it will click. What you look for is you want a pairing that the strengths complement each other.
“Jorgen is good with the ball, he’s got good pace, he’s a good passer out of the back. A partner for him is someone that we need to be good in the air, strong in the air, solid on tackling, a good organizer. Ciani fits that mold.
“I think what you’re really looking for,” he went on, “is a pairing in the back to be guys that are going to complement each other.”
There are even better days ahead, Skjelvik pointed out.
“We have that confidence,” he said, “and now the defense is getting that confidence as well. When a team has confidence and believes in each other, we’re going to win a lot of games.”