Not much point in mincing words over this one. In its 4-0 loss to Santos Laguna the LA Galaxy was frankly pathetic. Outplayed, out-thought, out-skilled, utterly humiliated. A night to forget for Bruce Arena and his players as the quicker, sharper Mexicans ran rings around them.
With only a few minutes remaining in the game, Santos -- totally in charge -- was passing the ball confidently around in midfield, barely taking matters seriously at this point. The game was already over, had been over really after 36 minutes when the score was already 3-0.
The Galaxy had been looking bad, and was about to look considerably worse. They were about to disgrace themselves. Not all of them -- in fact only one of them, their new acquisition, midfielder Nigel de Jong.
For his 87th minute foul on Ulises Davila, de Jong was immediately yellow-carded. He was lucky to escape a red card.
The foul is worth some study, because it tells us a lot about just what sort of a player de Jong is. This was a violent tackle from behind, during which de Jong did not play the ball, but managed to plant his studs firmly into the back of Davila’s right ankle -- the vulnerable Achilles’ tendon area.
What was de Jong doing, making a tackle of that sort in the final minutes of a game that his team had clearly lost? What was he doing tackling so violently in midfield -- the play took place near the halfway line, some 8 yards inside the Galaxy half. When he was tackled, Davila actually had his back to the Galaxy goal. It was a situation that presented absolutely no threat at all to the already blitzed Galaxy goal.
An innocuous situation that did not require any sort of challenge at all. But de Jong evidently felt the need to launch himself, studs first, at Davila. A nasty, unnecessary, spiteful, dangerous foul. Why? If Arena should still have any doubts, this tackle should have opened his eyes to what sort of player he has signed.
Yet ... there will be those ready to make excuses for de Jong’s thuggery. Brad Friedel, for instance, who was the analyst on the telecast for this game (as an aside, I would have thought his employment by the USSF as the coach of the under-19 national team would have precluded moonlighting).
Friedel stated that de Jong’s foul definitely deserved a yellow card, and then gave us this: “The [MLS] referees are gonna have to get used to how he does go into challenges. He does go in hard. He’s a nice guy, he doesn’t go in to injure people. But that is his style, that’s his game. Some MLS officials, they’ll take offense at some of his tackles, but hopefully there’s good communication throughout -- I always think it’s better when the referees communicate with players.”
So it’s the referees who have to adjust? Is Friedel for real? All the referees have to do is to apply the rules and give the cards. Which will mean de Jong will average at least one yellow card per game and his usefulness to the Galaxy will be severely limited by suspensions.
It should be -- must be -- de Jong who does the adjusting.
As for referees talking to players -- this is something that Friedel has picked up in England, where chatting with players is considered good “man management.” Possibly -- but it should be noted that the chats invariably mean that a referee is being lenient with players who have committed fouls.
De Jong presents a problem for MLS referees. Friedel must know that de Jong’s reputation is anything but that of Mr. Nice Guy, yet he maintains that de Jong doesn’t intend to injure people. Two opponents left with broken legs, Brad? Xabi Alonso karate-kicked in the chest, Brad? Intention is irrelevant here, the fact is that de Jong has a ominous track record as a dirty player.
Should MLS referees judge de Jong more harshly than other players? Whatever the rights and wrongs of that course of action, it’s one that referees invariably reject. They will treat all players equally, base their decisions only on what they see.
I agree with that philosophy -- but only if the “communication” aspect is not applied. No chatting. Call the foul and give the card. Something for Peter Walton, the MLS referee boss, to think about for the coming MLS season.
And it is de Jong himself who has raised the alarm by committing this totally gratuitous thoroughly unprofessional and highly dangerous foul just as the MLS season is about to begin.