Laurent Ciman

AP Photo/John Bazemore

Three things we learned from Atlanta United-Toronto FC (video)

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The game in 200 words (or less): Level at one but holding the hosts at bay, Toronto FC looked content to drag the life out of the Eastern Conference Final. One of its attackers had other ideas, though, as Nick DeLeon dribbled into and then out of traffic to smash a shot past Brad Guzan from outside the box and earn the Reds their third MLS Cup Final berth in four years (all against Seattle Sounders).

The Five Stripes came out of the gates hot in both halves. Julian Gressel rolled a ball over the line in the fourth minute of the first half and Atlanta won a penalty with embellishment only to see Quentin Westberg deny Josef Martinez from the spot. Both Westberg and Atlanta United goalkeeper Brad Guzan were very decent in the first half, Nicolas Benezet’s equalizer a curling thing of beauty. A league with almost unrivaled home field advantage saw two celebrated home sides beaten by cagey former champions. MLS is a riot.

One more note: Here’s a nod to USMNT hero Michael Parkhurst, whose career ends one match short of another final.

“I have to say that today was resiliency,” said manager Greg Vanney. “It wasn’t beautiful soccer. These guys refused to give up, kept looking for their moment and got it. I don’t think there were too many statistical categories we won.”

[ MORE: Liverpool 5-5 Arsenal | GK hero reacts ]

Three things we learned

1. Bradley, TFC caught sleeping early: Toronto FC’s hopes of taking the Mercedes Benz Stadium crowd out of this one took a seismic shake when Michael Bradley somehow didn’t realize Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez was right behind him to blaze onto a terrific through ball from in-form Ezequiel Barco. Martinez held onto the ball as long as possible before sending a pass to Gressel for as easy a finish as you’ll see at this level. 1-0 in the fourth minute. Bradley then conceded a penalty to an embellishing but fouled Martinez, but French-American goalkeeper Quentin Westberg bailed him out with a fine save on Josef Martinez to keep the deficit at one. Buy him dinner, MB90.

2. TFC makes only attacking moments count: Nicolas Benezet quickly restored the deadlock with a terrific finish from the corner of the box. The ex-Guingamp midfielder ran onto a marvelous diagonal pass from center back Laurent Ciman. Benezet cut in freom the left and spun a curling effort toward the back post that ex-Aston Villa goalkeeper Brad Guzan could not rescue before it rippled the netting for 1-1 in the 14th minute. You could argue that there wasn’t another threat from the Canadian side until DeLeon’s winner, which was a smashing shot to cap a smash and grab.

3. Westberg, Mavinga keep Reds in the match: Yes, of course, the penalty kick save was an outstanding moment for the former Troyes and Auxerre goalkeeper, but he would be needed many times over the course of the match including two moments in the first few moments of the second half. Decisive off his line and composed on it, the 33-year-old continues to validate Greg Vanney’s decision to put him in the lineup over MLS Cup winner Nick Bono. As for Chris Mavinga, the physical Congolese defender was a force. A few days after a Man of the Match performance in New York, Mavinga rebounded from an in-game injury to make two decisive interventions in the final five minutes.

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Man of the match: Westberg.

Goalscorers: Gonzalo Martinez (4′), Nicolas Benezet (14′), Nick DeLeon (78′)

Toronto FC sign ex-Montreal, LAFC captain Laurent Ciman

Photo by Harry How/Getty Images
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Laurent Ciman is back in MLS, after a four-month stint with Ligue 1 side Dijon, after a six-month stint with expansion side Los Angeles FC, after an unwanted trade away from Montreal Impact last December.

[ MORE: Legendary American coach Sigi Schmid passes away at 65 ]

The 2015 MLS Defender of the Year — and three-time All-Star — signed with Toronto FC, where he’ll be expected to shore up the Reds’ greatest weakness — and reason they missed the playoffs in 2018 — on Thursday. Ciman’s contract with Dijon was terminated earlier this week.

The 2017 MLS Cup winners moved up to the top spot in the allocation order, via trade (in exchange for the no. 2 spot in the allocation order and a second-round SuperDraft pick) with 2019 expansion side Cincinnati FC, to land the 33-year-old Belgian center back.

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“This is a player who has been a captain of two MLS teams, an All-Star and the Defender of the Year,” TFC general manager Tim Bezbatchenko said in a press release. “He is an excellent passer, an organizer in the back and a passionate, fiery competitor. We look forward to him joining our club immediately and becoming an important part of our group.”

Not only will Ciman be an instant upgrade to TFC’s defensive ranks, but it’s his ability to pass the ball out of the back that will impact multiple facets of play in 2019. For all of TFC’s struggles in 2018 — and there were plenty of them — Ciman is the perfect answer to a number of them.

Laurent Ciman leaves LAFC for Ligue 1

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After nearly four years in Major League Soccer, Laurent Ciman is set to take on a new challenge back in Europe.

Los Angeles FC announced on Tuesday that Ciman will be leaving the club to join Ligue 1 outfit Dijon FC.

The 33-year-old arrived in Los Angeles this offseason from the Montreal Impact in a major trade that helped give the expansion side a lift defensively in their first MLS season.

Since joining MLS, Ciman was named an MLS All Star in three seasons in the U.S., as well as winning MLS Defender of the Year back in 2015.

Ciman released the following statement via social media on Tuesday following the news breaking over the weekend.

WATCH: LAFC open brand new stadium with stoppage-time winner

Photo credit: LAFC / Twitter: @LAFC
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It seemed to take forever, but Los Angeles FC got there in the end — no, not their arrival to MLS in 2018, nor Sunday’s debut of Banc of California Stadium following a six-game road trip to start their expansion season.

[ MORE: Atlanta’s unbeaten run reaches 7; TFC implode vs. Chicago ]

The first goal. The first eruption to celebrate the first goal. The first win. The first three points.

For 92 minutes, Sunday’s clash with the Seattle Sounders felt destined for an anticlimactic ending: neither side threatened the other too terribly much, and 0-0 seemed a foregone conclusion. In truth, the severely shorthanded Sounders were the better of the two sides, perhaps the nerves and expectations of the big day were a bit much for LAFC.

Then, in the third minute of second-half stoppage time, it happened. Laurent Ciman laced a 30-yard free kick around a four-man wall and into the typically reliable, waiting arms of Stefan Frei. Only this time, Frei produced a spectacular howler.

[ MORE: Other MLS Things — The Archive ]

The victory sends LAFC second in the Western Conference, just two points behind Sporting Kansas City (and with two games in hand), and gives Bob Bradley‘s side a three-game winning streak as they look ahead to the rest of their four-game home stand to begin life at Banc of California Stadium.

LAFC erase 2-goal deficits to beat Montreal in 8-goal thriller

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The game in 100 words (or less): LAFC are, by definition, an expansion team; they are, to the eye, also very much an expansion team, in that they experience drastic mood swings from one game to the next and, on a number of occasions already this season, from one half to the next — or, as evidenced in Saturday’s 5-3 win over Montreal Impact, one 15-minute period to the next. 2-0 down after 16 minutes, Larent Ciman wanted the ground to open up and swallow him whole as his return to Montreal wasn’t going so swimmingly. The Belgian proceeded to score a stunning free kick eight minutes later. Montreal went down to 10 men and Evan Bush saved a penalty in the 33rd minute. Ignacio Piatti completed his hat trick on 43 minutes to restore the two-goal lead. LAFC score four second-half goals to run away with all three points, racking up 26 shots (18 of which were on target) in the process. Through two games this weekend, MLS has seen 14 goals scored.

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Three Four moments that mattered

24′ — Ciman’s free kick just about bursts through the back of the net — If not for the net, this ball continues to slowly rise until it cross the U.S.-Canada border and begins to orbit the planet in outer space.

43′ — Piatti smashes past Miller for 3-1 — Piatti takes his hat trick with aplomb, letting the ball bounce across his body before pulling it back across the face of goal and just inside the far post.

52′ — Feilhaber picks out the top corner for 3-2 — The comeback is on… again.

83′ — Vela bags the winner from the spot — Bush denied Marco Ureña from the spot in the first half, and so nearly did it again in the 83rd, but Carlos Vela’s effort crept over the line to make it 4-3.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage | MLS Three Things ]

Man of the match: Ignacio Piatti

Goalscorers: Piatti (9′, 16′, 43′), Ciman (24′), Feilhaber (52′), Raitala (57′ – OG), Vela (83′ – PK), Blessing (89′)