It’s been a little under 24 hours and the biggest story of the 2016 MLS season has only just gotten started. Last night Nigel de Jong was issued a caution for what appears to be an incredibly dangerous and potentially damaging tackle to Portland midfielder, Darlington Nagbe. While we still don’t know the extent of Nagbe’s injury, and yes it’s hard to make a full and complete judgment until we do, there are circumstances here that are understandably concerning to the fans and players of Major League Soccer.
Nigel de Jong is no stranger to controversy. His signing to the league was hailed by few outside of the Los Angeles area, and such was his reputation as a “dirty” player, that fans immediately began to express concern and anger over his potential presence in the league.
Last night’s clash between Portland and LA not only brought out the side of de Jong that fans have all been weary of, but it also cemented the Dutch international and “tough tackling” specialist as the villain of MLS that many expected him to be.
De Jong’s reputation has certainly preceded him. The images of him breaking Hatem Ben Arfa’s leg, and soaring through the air like a ninja, delivering a kick to the chest of Xabi Alonso in the 2010 World Cup final have been burned into the memories of all who follow soccer globally. US Soccer fans might remember him shattering the leg of a young and promising American midfielder named Stuart Holden in an international friendly. A friendly.
So on Sunday night when Nigel showed his studs, stomping on Darlington Nagbe’s ankle, de Jong’s 5 week nice guy routine in MLS ended abruptly. That moment we’ve all been quietly dreading, while still having a sinking feeling was going to happen, did. Nagbe’s injury might not be as devastating as the ones suffered by Ben Arfa or Holden, but that wasn’t due to any effort on de Jong’s part to show restraint.
As soon as the incident happened it was immediately clear that Nagbe, a player with no reputation whatsoever for the dramatic art of embellishment, was hurt very badly. However, to the absolute mystification of all who were watching, referee Allen Chapman pulled out a yellow card, showing it to de Jong as Nagbe was stretchered off the pitch still clutching his ankle. Soccer twitter erupted in anger. There should be no question about the proper severity of punishment de Jong should receive. In any league around the world, including beer leagues, that’s a red card – no discussion, no appealing. Immediately the mind wanders to incidents involving O’Niel Fisher and Felipe earlier this season that warranted a sending off, and yet somehow this one did not. In order for some form of justice to be meted, we’re going to have to rely on the MLS’ Disciplinary Committee. The Disciplinary Committee is going to have a difficult decision to make. Nigel de Jong is somewhat of a marquee player in the league, due to his worldwide recognition (though this is more for his lack of discipline than his actual play). It’s tempting to want to punish this man strictly for his reputation. Strictly for having the audacity to accept an invitation to a party where nobody else wanted him. But this incident alone is enough to warrant a significant penalty. Disciplinary actions have never stopped de Jong from reckless behavior before, but if we insist on keeping him in the league, we have to do what we can to try and prevent dangerous challenges from happening again. Calls for an outright ban, or an overly punitive suspension are understandable given how strong people’s emotions still are at this point in time, but above all else we wan’t the Disciplinary Committee to be fair.
Will de Jong hear from the Disciplinary Committee? It would be safe to put your mortgage on that. Will he receive a lengthy suspension? That remains to be seen. The extent of Nagbe’s injury may or may not play in to how long de Jong is watching games from afar. Should it? We all saw the tackle. It can, and should, be judged on that video alone. A big question that will remain unanswered is, where do we go now, what does the league do to not only rein de Jong in but abolish these tackles? The ruling the DisCo makes this week will go a long way in answering some of these thoughts but, it’s de Jong’s return that we all await. Retribution from other teams, sitting star midfielders against the Galaxy, nothing is out of the question. What can be answered however, Nigel de Jong has unfortunately now played in to all the bad ideas and concerns MLS fans had when he signed. And we’ve all been proven right.