Nigel de Jong—who you might remember from the time he karate kicked Xabi Alonso in the chest during the World Cup Finals, or the time he broke Stuart Holden’s leg in a friendly, or the time he fractured Hatem Ben Arfa’s tibia and fibula, or all the other times he made violent tackles—now plies his trade in America, for the Los Angeles Galaxy. But besides the new mailing address, he’s the same old Nigel de Jong you know and loathe.
During the second half of yesterday’s 1-1 draw against the Portland Timbers, de Jong cut down Darlington Nagbe with this stomp on his ankle. Or, as Alexi Lalas put it, “That’s horrible. That’s a horrible tackle. It’s a red card. It’s extra games.”
The results of various x-rays and MRIs aren’t in yet, but it’s a good bet that Nagbe will be out for awhile:
Despite Lalas’s invocations, de Jong was only assessed a yellow card for the tackle, and stayed on the field for the full 90.
Look, we can debate (and boy have we!) the merits of MLS bringing in aging, over-the-hill former superstars like Steven Gerrard, Didier Drogba, and Andrea Pirlo. But those guys—in theory, at least—sell tickets and raise the profile of the league, and bring a level of technical ability that MLS mostly lacks.
Not Nigel de Jong. He is a destroyer, in both the best and worst sense of the word, snuffing out attacks before they even begin and repeatedly chopping down opponents with potential career-ending tackles. Nobody is paying their hard-earned money to see de Jong play, and he doesn’t offer anything MLS currently lacks, he’s just more efficient in his destroying.
The irony here is that while de Jong embodies the very worst of MLS—a bizarre fascination with European players who were good five years ago, brute force taking precedence over breathtaking skill—Nagbe embodies the very best.
A Liberian immigrant, Nagbe starred at the University of Akron and was selected by the Timbers second overall in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft. Nurtured in Portland by his former college coach, Nagbe steadily developed into a terrifyingly talented winger (or second striker, maybe). When he gained U.S. citizenship last fall he instantly became the most skilled American midfielder, and he figures to play a big role on the USMNT for the next half-decade to come.
That is, of course, assuming he can stay on the pitch.