CARSON, Calif. – LA Galaxy center back Jelle Van Damme certainly appeared to be in his element in Saturday’s clash against the San Jose Earthquakes at StubHub Center.
A chippy game featuring seven yellow cards and the red card/ejection of San Jose’s Simon Dawkins was just what Van Damme ordered, and he responded with a solid performance and his first assist of the season in the Galaxy’s 3-1 victory in front of a sellout crowd of 25,667.
“Oh yeah,” he replied when asked if he enjoyed himself in this season’s first edition of the California Clasico. The bitter Western Conference rivals meet again May 22 at StubHub Center and June 25 at Avaya Stadium in San Jose. “I always try to enjoy myself in games.
“I’m a pretty aggressive player but I try to always play in the correct way.”
Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena brought in the Belgian international during the offseason to help solidify a defense that struggled at the end of the 2015 regular season and led to a first-round MLS Cup playoff ouster. But the 6-foot-3, 200-pounder also possesses some impressive skills on offense, most notably a deft left foot and a domineering presence in the air on set pieces.
“He’s a beast,” said the Galaxy’s Mike Magee, who had an assist on the first of two goals by Gyasi Zardes on Saturday. “He’s a handful. He wants to score goals, he wants to get on the end of things, he’ll throw his body into plays he probably shouldn’t.
“Tonight he was the difference in the game.”
Magee, asked if Van Damme’s offensive skills sometimes get overlooked because of his size and physicality, said no.
“I was unaware he was getting overlooked,” he told reporters. “I think when you see big dudes like that, all tatted up, bald head … you kind of assume they’re going to be a donkey. He’s the opposite.
He’s clever, he’s got good vision, he can run with the ball and obviously he does dirty work.”
Van Damme’s otherwise impressive night did not go without at least one disappointment. His missed tackle on a ball sent to San Jose’s Marvell Wynne in the 89th minute led to an outnumbered attack that resulted in a goal by the Earthquakes’ Chris Wondolowski. The Galaxy’s Robbie Keane, however, answered with a penalty kick in stoppage time to seal the outcome.
Van Damme was quick to take the blame for the misplay.
“Yeah, we had a few things that went wrong,” he said. “I mean at the end I always look at myself. I’m critical enough to say I didn’t do good enough. If I go down I have to be 100 percent sure I have the ball. I have to stay on my feet and just run with him. I missed it and they took the goal.
“I’ll take it.”
He may not have been happy with that play, but he was pleased the Galaxy got a hard-earned victory.
“I think today we deserved to win,” he said.