CARSON, Calif. – When the LA Galaxy ended their 2015 campaign, head coach Bruce Arena rued the repeated defensive errors that cost his side a chance at repeating as MLS Cup champions.
Now with the new season just over a month away, Arena feels he has finally found the man to shore things up in the back.
Jelle Van Damme.
The Galaxy announced the acquisition of veteran Belgian defender on Tuesday, completing the club’s seventh signing of the offseason. Van Damme, 32, joins the Galaxy after nearly six years with Belgian giants Standard Liège, where he made more than 200 appearances for the Rouges.
“I think that given our situation last year. The backline wasn’t well organized,” Arena told LAGalaxy.com. “There wasn’t enough leadership or vocal leadership. I think Van Damme will give us that.”
After the offseason departure of defensive lynchpin Omar Gonzalez, the Belgian veteran figures to be the leading candidate to slide into the spot vacated by the U.S. international. Filling the boots of the three-time MLS Cup winner will undoubtedly be a tall order, but Van Damme brings an elite pedigree of his own to StubHub Center.
Capped 30 times for Belgium, Van Damme heads to Major League Soccer after a 15-year career in Europe where the burly 6-foot-4 left-sided defender played not only in his native Belgium but had stops in England, Germany and the Netherlands.
“He’s physically a force. He’s a big player at 6-foot-4 and 195 pounds who have played predominantly at left back during his professional career. He’s a good player,” Arena said. “We’re going convert him to a center back. I think that at this point of his career at 32-years-old, it’s a position that he can play.
“He’s got good experience, he passes the ball well, and he’s a leader. I think that he’s a guy that’s suitable to help us strengthen our backline.”
Ahead of a season that will see the Galaxy rely heavily on experienced veterans, Arena believes signing the talented Belgian will help his side begin the year strong.
“It’s important for our entire team to be together at the start of the year. We didn’t have that last year,” said Arena. “It might have impacted us a little bit, but we’re anticipating having a good preseason and being ready by the time we play Santos Laguna in CONCACAF Champions League, as well as D.C. United to start the season.”