D.C. United is deep in discussions about acquiring Nigel de Jong, a two-time Dutch World Cup midfielder with an impressive portfolio but an infamous reputation.
De Jong, 32, is reportedly on his way out of Turkish club Galatasaray after one season and, according to sources familiar with the situation, has been approached by United about returning to MLS before the league transfer window closes next week. He was with the Los Angeles Galaxy last year but released in August before escalating contract guarantees were to take hold for the 2017 and ’18 seasons.
In Washington, de Jong would be a designated player, a status earning him between $480,625 and $1 million annually and running beyond this season. He was making $500,000 with the Galaxy.
Club officials Sunday declined to discuss the possibility of acquiring de Jong but have said in recent weeks that they are pursuing two designated-player signings in an effort to stem the tide in a rapidly deteriorating season. United (5-14-3) has lost six straight league matches (seven overall) and sits last in the 22-team circuit in points (18).
After a 4-0 rout at expansion Minnesota on Saturday, United has scored a league-low 18 goals and conceded the third most (42), including 18 during the six-game skid.
By acquiring de Jong, United would attempt to address a glaring void in defensive midfield and add toughness to a lineup that has lacked an authoritative figure. Marcelo Sarvas and Jared Jeffrey have served in that role all season.
De Jong would also arrive with enough baggage to fill an entire cargo hold.
Nicknamed “The Lawnmower” and “The Destroyer,” de Jong was involved in three notorious incidents in 2010.
During an international friendly against the United States, the Dutchman’s midfield challenge left Stuart Holden with a fractured right leg. That summer, in the World Cup final in Johannesburg, de Jong sent a flying kick into the chest of Spain’s Xabi Alonso. A clear red-card offense, he escaped with only a yellow. In retrospect, English referee Howard Webb said that, had he had a better angle, he would’ve ejected the Dutchman.
Later that year, while playing for Manchester City, de Jong broke a Newcastle player’s leg. The Dutch national team promptly dropped him from the squad, citing de Jong’s propensity to “needlessly looks to push the limit.”
Last year, MLS suspended him three matches for a hard challenge on Portland’s Darlington Nagbe.
When the Galaxy axed him last summer, the league’s website took the low road by posting a video of de Jong’s “highlights” — all tackles and cards — and said Los Angeles would be better without him. MLS later deleted the video.
Despite making many lists of soccer’s dirtiest players, de Jong has received only two red cards in league play during his 12-year pro career. (He does have 74 yellow cards, with a high of 11 for AC Milan in 2014-15.)
De Jong began his career with famed Amsterdam club Ajax, then moved to Hamburg, Manchester City and Milan. Last season at Galatasaray, he appeared in 18 league matches (12 starts) and scored once. He also started five of six domestic cup matches.
For the national team, De Jong has made 81 appearances, including 11 starting assignments in the 2010 and ’14 World Cups. His most recent match for Netherlands came in a European Championship qualifier in March 2015.
United’s pursuit of de Jong is part of an effort to stabilize the squad for the remainder of this season and put key players in place before the front office explores several changes this winter.
One source said United is “not writing off this season” but recognizes a playoff berth is almost out of the question. In addition to de Jong, the club has extended offers for a second designated player as part of an effort to begin the rebuilding process right away.
United is seeking to re-calibrate and build momentum before opening a new stadium, 20,000-capacity Audi Field, next summer at Buzzard Point in Southwest D.C.
The club apparently tried to make a big splash earlier this summer, making inquiries about English superstar Wayne Rooney. The sides entered into preliminary discussions, one source said, before Rooney, 31, the longtime Manchester United and English national team striker, decided to remain at home and sign with Everton.
United will host league-leading Toronto FC this Saturday at RFK Stadium.