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Laurent Ciman celebrates after scoring against Real Salt Lake during an MLS match in Montreal on May 16, 2015.Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

Veteran defender Laurent Ciman has returned to Montreal, where he started his MLS playing career, this time as an assistant coach.

The 35-year-old Belgian spent three seasons in Montreal before an unwanted trade to expansion Los Angeles FC in December 2017. After one season as LAFC captain, he joined Toronto FC in December 2018 after a brief stint in France with Ligue 1′s Dijon.

Ciman, named MLS Defender of the Year in his first season in Montreal, became a free agent after his TFC contract expired at the end of last season.

For Ciman, retirement as a player means a return home. He retained his house in Montreal and wife Diana and their two kids remained there while he played in Toronto.

After a successful career in Belgium, Ciman opted to come to Canada in 2015 because of the support available here for daughter Nina, who has autism spectrum disorder.

“I’m very happy to be back home,” Ciman said in a statement Wednesday. “It’s been my wish for a long time, and this is a great opportunity for myself and my family. I just want to contribute to the club’s growth.”

Ciman, who won 20 caps for his country, played in the Belgian top flight from 2004 to 2015 with Charleroi Sporting Club, Club Brugge, KV Kortrijk and Standard de Liege.

He played six seasons in MLS, appearing in 136 regular-season games including 126 starts. He also played in nine playoffs games, nine Canadian Championship games and eight CONCACAF Champions League matches.

“We are very happy that Laurent is joining the coaching staff and that he is back with the club,” said Montreal sporting director Olivier Renard. “It is a logical and beneficial association, especially knowing the attachment Laurent has always had for this club and this city. We can now count on his experience after a fruitful career in Europe, in MLS, and on the international stage.”

Ciman who played 515 pro matches during his career, saw limited action with Toronto but provided key backup for the injured Omar Gonzalez in the 2019 playoffs.

He was a popular member of the Toronto squad.

“He’s got an incredible personality, a very playful personality that I think is infectious in our group,” then coach Greg Vanney said during Ciman’s time in Toronto. “It’s something that our group needs at times, just to be able to banter, have fun, make something sometimes that is challenging or difficult into some kind of a game within the game.”

Ciman was a member of the Belgian squad that reached the quarterfinals of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and saw action in Euro 2016. He missed out on the 2018 World Cup, one of Belgium’s final cuts.