It made for a tragic spectacle. Darlington Nagbe sits in a wheelchair. A towel is draped over his head and shoulders. Slumped forward as he is rolled to the locker room, he cuts a broken and forlorn figure. The man who put him there, Nigel De Jong, remains on the field, a mere yellow card his punishment on the night.
In real time at the stadium, I wasn’t able to truly see the nature of the tackle. It looked like the kind of hard coming-together you so often see on 50/50 balls. On video after the fact, it looked damning. De Jong goes in studs showing, and careens his sole into Nagbe’s ankle.
He will certainly have his yellow card upgraded to a red and rightfully so. The length of the resultant suspension will be announced imminently. Captain on the night and a senior player with experience across some of the biggest leagues and clubs in Europe and a World Cup finalist, he should have known better. I make no attempt at defending his reckless stupidity.
However, there is another target for such accusations that I will defend: the LA Galaxy.
The web and US soccer media was alive yesterday with claims that the Galaxy didn’t just know this would happen but in some cases, that this is why he was brought in. The claim is that basically, the Galaxy is just as responsible as De Jong for this injury.
This is a ludicrous claim and I will outline why.
De Jong has a checkered past. Globally, he is already etched into the history books as the man who avoided a red card in the World Cup final, when he brazenly cleated Xabi Alonso in the chest. Premier League viewers will remember the foul that left Hatem Ben Arfa with a severely broken leg when they were at Man City and Newcastle respectively. US fans hold him in contempt for the devastating injury to Stuart Holden, that effectively derailed the career of one of the nation’s brightest prospects.
Given his track record, this was bound to happen? Right?
Well surprisingly, no, not really. These admittedly serious high-profile incidents aside, his disciplinary record doesn’t really stretch much further. While clearly he’s benefited from a little fortune on this score, he’s actually never been shown a straight red card in his entire professional career. The one sending off to his name came during his time with Hamburg for a second yellow.
A tough tackling midfielder by trade, we saw again on Sunday, why this man has played for some of the biggest clubs in the biggest leagues in the World and why he was a mainstay for the Dutch national team for so long.
He had quite frankly, been the Galaxy’s best player since signing from AC Milan. Impressive passing and positional play, defensively strong, it was little wonder that in Keane’s absence he was captain.
The Galaxy had signed a top draw midfielder, years removed from the incidents that earned him his infamy. Then he brought it all flooding back in a moment that has likely erased for good, what little chance he may have had to transcend his ugly reputation.
The reality of his signing however, is that the Galaxy brought in a very good defensive midfielder with a few ugly isolated incidents in his past but with an otherwise unremarkable disciplinary record.
The Galaxy likely signed him in the belief that while he might bring the type of bite that is common among defensive midfield protagonists, there was nothing to suggest his past was anything but that.
De Jong is not the first player with bad fouls in his history – and certainly not in MLS – and it is not the job of clubs to shut out players for indiscretions long past.
De Jong should and will be punished and the Galaxy will also suffer accordingly. To say the club is to blame, is nothing short of absurd.