Nigel De Jong's brutal challenge on Darlington Nagbe–on the heels of related remarks from the league's officiating overseers–is at the center of Alexander Abnos's MLS Power Rankings.
Peter Walton found himself in the news far more than he probably would have liked over the past week. Through five rounds of MLS action, red cards were at an all-time high. And of those, straight reds were being distributed at a rate unseen in the league’s 20-year history. Week 5 alone saw four players earn red, and one suspended after the fact.
"The referees will continue to call the game within law,” Walton, the general manager of the Professional Referees Organization (PRO), told reporters on a Friday conference call. "If the players decide they’ll continue making such rash challenges, then we will still see the red cards being administered.”
The conference call was Walton’s way of putting out a fire. Then Nigel De Jong came along in Week 6 and poured gasoline all over the embers. His tackle on Darlington Nagbe at the end of the LA Galaxy’s 1-1 draw with Portland on Sunday night re-ignited the conversation around discipline in Major League Soccer. Only now, the talk is less about the harshness of its dispersal, and more about its alarming inconsistency.
De Jong’s challenge, on the face of it, is a more violent version of the one that earned the Red Bulls’ Felipe a red card last week against New England. But while referee Mark Geiger ejected Felipe from the game, Alan Chapman gave De Jong a yellow card for a tackle that was stronger, harsher, more reckless, and far more damaging to the player on the receiving end.
“I think that the protection of players, the protection of skillful players is the right way to go, and being strong and tough on plays that could endanger the safety of opponents,” Walton said in that Friday conference call—a quote that looks especially bad after seeing Nagbe, a budding U.S. international with skill, flair, and imagination, having to leave StubHub center in a wheelchair following the game.
”What I think will change is that players already are beginning to modify some of their behavior,” Walton said Friday. “That boils down to 'Do I lunge in for that ball or do I close down instead of running the risk of a red card and lunging in?’"
This, quite simply, is wishful thinking. Next to sympathy for Nagbe and outrage at Chapman, the next strongest emotion to come out of the incident should be a complete lack of surprise at De Jong. This is simply how he plays. He’s a fine midfielder no doubt, but would he be as well-known if he had never left a cleat-shaped imprint on Xabi Alonso’s chest? Or if he hadn’t directly caused one of the many injuries that led to the end of Stuart Holden’s career?
For what it's worth, he only got yellows for both of those tackles, too.
Attacking player of the week: Quincy Amarikwa, San Jose Earthquakes
The San Jose forward has been in great form, distressing opposing back lines with his relentless activity. It’s not all bluster, though—both of his assists in Saturday’s 2-2 draw at Dallas show that he can play delicately when needed as well.
Defensive player of the week: Tim Melia, Sporting Kansas City
Melia made five fine saves in the run of play and stopped a Bradley Wright-Phillips penalty kick as Kansas City rebounded from its home loss to RSL last week with a good win away from home. Melia had to work without U.S. international center back and club captain Matt Besler in front of him, but still organized his defense well and made key stops when needed.