Michelle Kaufman

Galaxy coach Bruce Arena believes de Jong suspension not warranted

Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder Nigel de Jong, above, was suspended for three games for taking down Portland’s Darlington Nagbe, who left in a wheelchair with an ankle injury.
Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder Nigel de Jong, above, was suspended for three games for taking down Portland’s Darlington Nagbe, who left in a wheelchair with an ankle injury. AP

Back in his native Netherlands, Nigel de Jong is known as “Der Rasenmaher,” which translates to The Lawnmower.

French newspaper L’Equipe once named him the most violent soccer player in the world, and Spanish sports website El Gol Digital ranked de Jong the 10th-dirtiest player in the world. De Jong, a defensive midfielder, made international headlines three times in 2010, and all for extremely aggressive (many would say dangerous) tackles.

On March 3, 2010, he broke the leg of U.S. midfielder Stuart Holden, who was playing for Bolton Wanderers in England at the time. At the 2010 World Cup final in South Africa, de Jong did a karate-like kick into the chest of Spanish player Xabi Alonso. And in October of that year, he tackled Newcastle United’s Hatem Ben Arfa, who left the field on a stretcher with two leg fractures.

De Jong, who now plays for the Los Angeles Galaxy, was back in the news last week, for what Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber called “a nasty tackle.”

Last Sunday, during the 73rd minute of the Galaxy’s match against the Portland Timbers, de Jong took down Darlington Nagbe, who left the field in a wheelchair with an ankle injury. De Jong was issued a yellow card and remained in the game, which outraged many fans and media members across the country who felt he should have been ejected.

The MLS Disciplinary Committee agreed. On Friday, it suspended de Jong for three games, fined him an undisclosed amount and said in a statement: “While de Jong received a yellow card during the match, the Disciplinary Committee was unanimous that the action was a clear and unequivocal red card and the play was of an egregious and reckless nature such that the Committee must act to protect player safety.”

Galaxy coach Bruce Arena, the former U.S. national coach, defended his player before the suspension came down, saying the situation was blown out of proportion.

“I think it’s hysteria,” he told LAGalaxy.com. “I think, obviously, Nigel has to understand this; he has a reputation that precedes him. If that was any other player in that tackle, it would not have received the hysteria that it has. I think the press and others have failed miserably in reporting the incident and what actually happened.”

Arena went on to say that Nagbe “probably wasn’t hurt on the tackle, which no one has reported. Darlington Nagbe is a great kid and a great player, and we certainly don’t want him to be injured on a bad tackle. I think it was a mistimed tackle by Nigel. A bad tackle on that play is going to the ground and going over the ball with excessive force. That was not the case on that play.”

Arena said his team doctor told him Dagbe got a bruise from de Jong’s tackle and that the ankle injury was there before the game.

“We don’t condone the tackle, it was a mistimed tackle, it was not a vicious tackle,” Arena said. “A bad tackle certainly. What I know of Nigel in our short time together is he’s a great player and person, and he wasn’t trying to hurt the player, believe me. It was mistimed. As a tackle it’s clearly a yellow card and arguably a red card, there’s no excuse for it. Fortunately, it wasn’t a tackle that injured the player.”

He blamed social media for the loud outcry.

“Hysteria is the fault of social media,” Arena said. “It’s the fault of people in MLS and in the offices that do that and feeds the whole thing. It’s been blown out of proportion, but rightfully so because of how everyone wanted to make this player into a villain. And, obviously, with the incidents he’s had previously it invites that. We understand that.”

Garber, speaking to reporters in Sacramento on Thursday, shot down Arena’s assessment of the situation.

“It’s an absurd and irresponsible comment to think that the league would want to promote something that negatively reflects on our game,” Garber said. “It’s just ridiculous. … That debate is something that the media is entitled to drive on its own, and a league is not part of that process.

“Bruce is part of our Technical Committee. He’s one of the leaders of the sport in our country, and I know that he has been an advocate for ensuring that we’re not having dangerous and reckless tackles on the field. When I thought about his comments it said to me, and in many ways I respect, that coaches need to defend their players, particularly a guy like Nigel who I understand is a good guy. But to think that we intentionally created this narrative is just ridiculous.”

LEICESTER’S MAGIC

Fairy tale team Leicester City, which leads the English Premier League after starting the season with 5,000-to-1 odds to win the title, hopes to keep its seven-point margin over Tottenham with a win over West Ham on Sunday.

With five matches to go, Leicester and West Ham are both chasing their best-ever Premier League finishes.

If Leicester loses and Tottenham wins at Stoke on Monday, Tottenham would trim its deficit to four points. West Ham was in 12th place last year but is now closing in on fourth-place Arsenal and a Champions League berth.

Who’s leading

EPL: Leicester City (72), Tottenham (65), Manchester City (60), Arsenal (59), Manchester United (56).

La Liga: Barcelona (76), Real Madrid (75), Atletico Madrid (73), Villarreal (60), Celta Vigo (53).

Serie A: Juventus (76), Napoli (70), Roma (64), Inter (61), Fiorentina (56).

Bundesliga: Bayern Munich (78), Dortmund (68), Bayer (51), Hertha (49), Monchengladbach, Mainz and Schalke 04 (45).

Ligue 1: PSG (86), Lyon (56), Monaco (55), Nice and St Etienne (54), Lille (52).

MLS: East — Montreal and Philadelphia (9), Orlando (8), New England (7). West — Dallas (14), K.C. (12), Real Salt Lake, Los Angeles and San Jose (11).

NASL: N.Y. and Carolina (6), Minnesota and Jacksonville (3), Miami, Indy and Tampa Bay (2).

On the tube

Sunday: Leicester City vs. West Ham (8:30 a.m., NBCSN, TELEM), Arsenal vs. Crystal Palace (10:55 a.m., NBCSN, TELEM), Barcelona vs. Valencia (2:25 p.m., BEIN), Orlando City vs. New England (3:30 p.m., ESPN).

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