Bruce Arena is known for doing his due diligence when making a signing, and the acquisition of Jelle Van Damme was no different.
Van Damme was officially signed by the Galaxy on Tuesday after seven years with Standard Liège. However before completing the signing, it was imperative for the Galaxy head coach and general manager clear the air with his new signing regarding an incident between the Belgian and former U.S. international Oguchi Onyewu.
During his time with Anderlecht in 2009, Van Damme was accused of speaking repeated racial remarks to former U.S. international Oguchi Onyewu during a match between Anderlecht and Onyewu’s Standard Liège. After the incident, Onyewu took legal action against Van Damme, but eventually dropped his suit after an apology from the Belgian.
Before signing Van Damme, Arena reached out to Onyewu and others from across the Belgian soccer community to investigate any potential issues.
“We checked the player’s background. We’ve talked to club officials, players that played against him, and even his coach from his academy days,” Arena told LA Galaxy Insider on Tuesday. “We have a pretty good understanding, and obviously, we had people see him play in Belgium in December. We met with personally. We have a good feel for the player and a good understanding of what he’ll bring to our club. He’s a good addition to our squad.”
Arena declined to go into any specifics about his discussion with Onyewu but came away with the impression that the rift between the two men was repaired.
“I’ve spoken to Gooch about the situation and there doesn’t appear to be any issues or hard feelings,” Arena said. “As a rule, we don’t try to sign people that we think don’t want to play anymore or racist or whatever. That’s not the business that we’re in. You’d have to be a fool to think that’s how we do our business.”
The 32-year-old central defender is expected to arrive in Los Angeles late this week or early next week, and immediately join the Galaxy's preseason training which officially began last Friday. Once Van Damme does arrive, Arena expects the veteran Belgian defender to have an immediate impact on his squad.
"He’s an experienced player. He’s been a captain at Standard. He’s well respected by his teammates and he’ll bring a physical dimension to our team that I don’t think we have," Arena said. "He’s an experienced player who will make the transition from left back to center back which is a transition that he’s very capable of making. "