It’s not surprising that Nigel de Jong managed to mangle an MLS player’s leg with a bone-crunching tackle. But it is impressively in-character that he only waited five games, and when he struck, he got one of the coolest guys in the league. He hasn’t been formally suspended, but he’ll most likely get a harsh penalty for cutting down the best player on last year’s MLS Cup winners.
Bruce Arena spoke to media this morning and blamed pretty much everyone else for the hubbub over de Jong. You see, all the noise about player safety and MLS’ over-reliance on physicality the media’s fault.
“I think the press and others have failed miserably in reporting the incident and what actually happened,” Arena said. “The player 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.”
Nagbe wasn’t hurt on the play? Hmmm.
Arena acknowledged that the tackle was “bad”, but he said that it was not definitely a red card. He revealed that de Jong would not be available for Friday’s game, but MLS has yet to reveal how long he’ll be held out for. Arena went on, blaming Twitter users and “the journalism” for blowing it out of proportion:
Arena laid blame for the “hysteria” with social media and “people in MLS and in the offices that do that and feeds the whole thing. And the journalism.”
Bruce Arena protecting his player and trying to play down any noise is understandable and not particularly noteworthy. But while MLS soccer has evolved, it’s still more physical than its counterparts around the world, and that’s a problem.
The league doesn’t necessarily have an obligation to go out of their way to punish de Jong and Arena doesn’t have to throw him under the bus in the name of progress, but that doesn’t make Arena right in this case. The tackle was controversial because it was cynical and it fits into a pattern of occasionally horrifying tackles in MLS, not because of media confirmation bias.