Unfortunately, this week’s MLS Big – 5 can only start with one item, so here we go.
Nigel De Jong Takes Out Nagbe
For fans of the U.S. MNT Nigel De Jong will forever be reviled as the man who broke Stuart Holden’s leg in a friendly prior to the 2010 World Cup, an injury that was one of a series of blows that eventually cost Holden his career and deprived the U.S. team of a talented midfielder.
Other, less Americacentric soccer lovers remember De Jong for his infamous flying kung-fu kick into the chest of Spain’s Xabi Alonso in the 2010 World Cup final. A transgression so blatant that Howard Webb’s decision to allow the Dutch Destroyer to remain on the pitch with just a yellow card remains one of the worst calls in World Cup history.
On Sunday night in Los Angeles referee, Allen Chapman had his own Howard Webb moment when De Jong did what De Jong does, and took out Darlington Nagbe with a reckless, dirty tackle. Somehow when the referee reached into his pocket he produced not the well deserved red card, but instead a yellow card.
When Bruce Arena and the Galaxy signed De Jong before the season the club touted his toughness and was applauded in many corners for adding a hard-nosed veteran. But De Jong’s reputation was no secret. L.A. chose to go into business with De Jong, and now Nagbe, a talented, skill player, the type of player MLS has said it is trying to protect, has paid the price.
Nagbe’s leg wasn’t broken, the Timbers and U.S. MNT midfielder suffered a medial ankle sprain and contusion. De Jong apologized, so what. He eventually apologized to Holden too, but as the saying goes, you can’t unring the bell. Perhaps in De Jong’s case, the saying should be amended to say: you can’t unbreak the leg.
2) Real? Salt Lake
So far, so good for the lone remaining undefeated team in MLS. With Saturday’s 1-0 home win RSL improved to three wins and two draws on the young campaign, even if the RSL goal required a bit of help from their opponents.
Joao Plata got the goal, his fourth of 2016, good for a share of the league lead. Plata also has three assists, second in MLS. On Saturday Plata’s tally was gifted to him when Colorado goalkeeper Zac MacMath needlessly tried to get to a ball 10 yards outside the box, a decision he regretted when defender Axel Sjoberg poked the ball over his head.
Plata ran it down and scored. The other key moment in the RSL win came when Aaron Maund made a spectacular diving header save with his keeper Nick Rimando beat.
Two unlikely plays led to Salt Lake’s win, even more unlikely, RSL’s status as the only unbeaten team in MLS.
3) Odd NYCFC Suspensions
When the NYCFC team sheet was released before Saturday night’s match against the Chicago Fire forward Khiry Shelton and midfielder Mikey Lopez were both missing from the 18. Given that the attacker had started three games for the club, missing out only while on international duty with the U.S. U23 side, Shelton’s absence was odd, odder still was the reason given.
NYCFC coach Patrick Vieira sat the pair over remarks made on a video that the coach did not care for. After the match, a 0-0 tie with Chicago, Vieira explained. “Khiry and Mikey Lopez were supposed to be part of the team but I was not really pleased about the message on the internet about the video. I think that was disrespectful to Chicago and that is not the message that I want from the players.”
The video seemed harmless enough with Lopez and Shelton joking about the weather at Friday’s training session before saying that they didn’t care who the team was playing on Sunday, with Lopez concluding, “we’re gonna get that W.”
NYC did not get that W, a problem reflected in the team’s record of 0 wins, one loss and three draws from a recent homestand. Come playoff time Vieira could well regret picking up just three points from a possible 12 during this favorable stretch.
Meanwhile Chicago’s new coach Veljko Paunovic seems to have solved his team’s defensive issues, with his surprising number one keeper Matt Lampson twice coming up big against NYC star David Villa as his team registered a third shutout after starting the season with a 4-3 loss at home to New York and a 1-1 tie at Orlando.
4) Opposite Trajectories
When the New York Red Bulls hosted Sporting Kansas City in Harrison, New Jersey on Saturday night the Red Bulls were hoping to get 2015’s highest-scoring attack untracked while Sporting KC looked to rebound from last week’s 2-1 home loss to Real Salt Lake, the club’s first loss of the young campaign.
NYRB coach Jesse Marsch inserted Sean Davis into the midfield and continued to mix and match his injury-ravaged defense, putting fullback Chris Duvall in at fullback. SKC had injury issues as well, playing without U.S. international CB Matt Besler and then losing another central defender, Kevin Ellis, and fullback Chance Myers to injury during the match.
KC got goals from Benny Feilhaber and Dom Dwyer as New York were shutout yet again. That makes it four shutouts suffered by the 2015 Supporters Shield winners, who have scored in just one game this season, a 4-3 home win over Houston.
The Red Bulls have a quick turnaround with a Wednesday night game in San Jose. Marsch gave off-season Homegrown signing Alex Muyl five minutes versus SKC and fellow 2016 HG, striker Brandon Allen was in the 18. Marsch is unlikely to panic just yet but lead striker Bradley Wright-Phillips is goalless this year, even missing a pk on Saturday, so the NYRB boss might want to try something new against the Earthquakes.
5) Wondo Still Has It
Whenever a player has a breakout season the natural inclination among us cynical human types is to say, ok, great let’s see it again. In the last couple of years, fans of England’s Premiership have asked it of Harry Kane and now Jamie Vardy. Kane has answered firmly in the affirmative, we will have to wait until next year to see if Vardy can follow up.
Over here in the New World Chris Wondolowski had his doubters after his from nowhere success in 2010, but here we are six years later and who should be leading the MLS goalscoring race but the 31-year-old San Jose Earthquake finisher.
Wondo may never live down his World Cup miss versus Belgium but when it comes to MLS, Wondo cannot be doubted. Wondo entered the 2010 MLS season with seven goals to show for six seasons, only to shock the league by banging home 18 to win the Golden Boot.
He followed with 16, and then a league record 27 (shared by Roy Lassiter and Bradley Wright-Phillips), adding 11, 14, and 16 before this year.
Now tied with three other players for the league with four the veteran is still counted on to carry the Earthquakes attack as the only multiple goal scorer on the squad. So, yes Wondo could do it again, and all these years later he’s still at it.