Jelle Van Damme has stepped it up bigtime in the playoffs. Sporting the captain’s armband in recent weeks, the imposing Belgian has played at a higher level while leading a vastly experienced team to vital victories over Real Salt Lake and the Colorado Rapids.
In search of an opening goal in the 55th minute of the MLS Cup playoff conference semifinal first leg vs. the Rapids, Emmanuel Boateng sent in a cross that was cleared to Van Damme, and after his shot from the top of the box was blocked, the defender hustled to the rebound.
With midfield destroyer Michael Ariza on his back, Van Damme opened his body just slightly before playing the ball around Ariza and leaving him in the dust, then squaring to an open Giovani dos Santos for a header than would eventually ricochet into the net and send StubHub Center into a frenzy.
The sequence was a ruthless combination of athletic ability, skill and 100% effort, characteristics that have come to define JVD’s season.