41116_isi_dejongnigel_mlsmj030616291 Michael Janosz/isiphotos.com
MLS Weekend Review

Nigel de Jong Is a Disgrace and Other MLS Ugliness

The ugliness expressed itself across Major League Soccer this weekend—in the poor touches and horrid goalkeeping as well as in a brutal attack on Darlington Nagbe. Brian Sciaretta has the full scoop here. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
April 11, 2016
10:10 PM

THE MOST UPBEAT sentiment to be uttered about the past weekend in Major League Soccer is that things will have to get better because, frankly, they can’t get much worse. Aside from a surprisingly good Philadelphia-Orlando game, it was a stretch largely diluted by dullness—as well as one marred by a brutal act of violence.

Here are my takeaways from the weekend.

Nigel de Jong is a Thug

Nigel de Jong by now is synonymous with a physical aspect of the game that is both ugly and dangerous. Named in December by French magazine L’Equipe as the most violent footballer in the world, the Los Angeles Galxy midfielder's reputation precedes him.

His defenders point out that is rarely given red cards, but that’s not to say he hasn’t been deserving. The Dutchman, if you’ll recall, wasn’t sent off for his leg-breaking foul on Stuart Holden in 2010, nor was he dismissed for his flying kick into Xabi Alonso’s chest in the 2010 World Cup final. 

When the Galaxy announced in February that it had signed de Jong from AC Milan, it was only a matter of time before an injury happened, and, sure enough, it came on Sunday. In just his fifth MLS game, de Jong came in hard against Darlington Nagbe on a nasty challenge, and the U.S. international had to be taken off the field after the game in a wheelchair.

The Timbers’ Twitter account can be over the top at times, but the club does have a point here. It is easy to point fingers at de Jong and get angry with him for injuring one of the league’s premier players, but this one is ultimately on the Galaxy. They knew what they were getting, and willfully increased the risk of injury in MLS by bringing de Jong onboard.

Now, the league, the Timbers, and the U.S. national team may all have lost a key player for a long period of time.

Poor showings abound

This weekend will not qualify for any MLS time capsules.

Sunday’s Houston-Seattle game ended in a 1-1 draw that was poorly played and might feature one of the worst-looking goals ever scored in MLS history, courtesy of Giles Barnes…

 …and only slightly better was Joao Plata’s goal in Real Salt Lake’s 1-0 win over Colorado:

The terrible Houston-Seattle draw was followed by a scoreless game at Yankee Stadium between NYCFC and Chicago, and for those who were still awake after that game, they were promptly treated to the de Jong hack-fest, which resulted in the potential loss of one of the league’s players who actually tries to play the game in a beautiful manner.

Higher-scoring were D.C. United-Vancouver and Red Bulls-Sporting KC, but neither was competitive. D.C., terrible to start the year, exemplified the unpredictability of MLS by pounding the Whitecaps, 4-0, on braces by Fabian Espindola and Alvaro Saborio, while the woes only continued to mount for the Red Bulls with a 2-0 defeat in Harrison.

It wasn’t as if last season’s Supporters’ Shield winners didn’t have their chances in the latter game, either: Bradley Wright-Phillips took 10 shots for New York, the most by any MLS player this season, and he even had a 64th-minute attempt from the penalty spot. Thanks in part to a player-of-the-week performance from Tim Melia, though, none went in.

Different paths for Montreal, Columbus

The Red Bulls’ poor start can be somewhat explained by their injuries, particularly along the backline, but Columbus’ malaise is considerably more puzzling.

In last year’s Eastern Conference semifinal playoff, lower-seeded Montreal appeared the favorite against Columbus because of Didier Drogba’s scoring rampage, yet the Crew found a way and reached MLS Cup. Just five months later, Drogba isn’t playing for Montreal and Columbus returned its core, yet the Impact, which defeated the Crew 2-0 on Saturday, somehow looks the much better side.

“We are creating enough chances to score goals,” Columbus coach Gregg Berhalter said. "It was clear in the first half, in particular: a couple of really close looks on goal after some good moves. I still believe the ball can move faster, the final ball can be more precise, and we can be better in front of goal. Those are three things we clearly need to keep working on.

"We had a tough start to the season with four of the first five games away from home against some pretty tough home opponents," he added. "It hasn't been easy but we're not complaining. You have to play these teams eventually. For us it's a good test and now we move forward."

Wil Trapp agreed.

“I think Gregg hit the nail on the head,” the former U.S. U-23 captain said. “It's a group that relies on the collective and when we're not working 100 percent together and guys are tense, not playing to their capabilities, it can fall apart like it did. Montreal, give them credit, they are good on the counter attack and they score a good goal to ice it there."

Philadelphia-Orlando Wasn't half bad

Neither the Philadelphia Union nor Orlando City SC made the playoffs last season, and both endured significant offseason shakeups in the front office.

But when the two met in Philadelphia on Friday night, the end product was actually quite good—even though hot-starting Orlando was without Cyle Larin, Tommy Redding, and Brek Shea.

The match’s high level of quality started with C.J. Sapong, who’s been one of the league’s most improved players early on and has played a big part in the Union’s 3-2-0 start. He opened the scoring early Friday from close range for his third tally of the season.

“He was tired, but he has a way of catching a second wind,” Union coach Jim Curtin said of Sapong. “He is so valuable defensively on set pieces for us because he is able to mark one of the bigger guys and he attacks the ball well, so as the games get late, I am always hesitant and reluctant to take him off because not only for what he brings offensively but what he does defensively in the box in those last seconds when there’s corner kicks or whatever, because he is such a special, versatile player that brings so many little things.”

Adrian Winter equalized just before half with a very nice goal when he took a pass from Kevin Molino, chipped it over the defender with his first touch, and finished with a strong, low shot with his left foot.

The winner then came in the 90th minute from Tranquillo Barnetta, who hit one of the nicer free kicks you’ll see.

Thank you, Philadelphia and Orlando, for salvaging an otherwise dreadful weekend of soccer.

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