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Combatting discrimination within MLS: The only story that matters from Matchday 7



Photo by Vincent Carchietta | USA TODAY Sports

This past weekend of Major League Soccer went ahead as any other, and a barrage of Saturday night matches brought goals, hat-tricks, heroics and more.

However, these events come each and every week. Our league will never have a slate of games without spectacular goals, late drama, and compelling storylines. Unfortunately, infrequent incidents can overshadow these athletic performances, and this past Saturday reminded us of that.

Play stopped in the 54th minute of a contest between the New York Red Bulls and the San Jose Earthquakes. What looked like an ordinary argument between players suddenly exploded into chaos. Upon closer inspection, it is clear that something said by the Red Bulls’ new acquisition, Dante Vanzeir, strongly upset several opposing players. This led to a nearly 20-minute stoppage that failed to even result in the removal of Vanzeir from the match.

Although play eventually resumed, it is irrelevant that each side scored once, taking a point from the game. What matters is addressing the situation at hand and reacting accordingly.

After the match, San Jose’s Jeremey Ebobisse delivered a nearly 10-minute speech to the media, firmly accusing the Belgian player of using a racial slur toward San Jose players. Ebobisse clarified what was said in his incredibly professional remarks and called for the league to act accordingly.

Late on Monday, MLS released a statement that backed up these claims. MLS proudly displays the slogan “Soccer for All” on league-branded merchandise, advertisements, and promotions; if they genuinely support this sentiment, they must act in a way that proves it. When a similar situation occurred last fall in D.C., MLS took far too long to address, investigate, and respond. In a sport so deeply intertwined with social discourse, another poor response from the league would be unacceptable.

The fix is simple: Vanzeir should never record another MLS minute. Racism and discrimination have no place in the world’s game, much less Major League Soccer. A portion of the league’s original statement reads, “MLS has zero tolerance for abusive and offensive language and takes these allegations seriously.”

This will truly test if MLS’ zero-tolerance policy is a mere facade. There will never be room for discrimination in this sport, and MLS must stand by this. I sincerely hope that the league handles this situation promptly and correctly, but it is imperative that this does not get swept under the rug. Soccer is an incredible sport that allows for the inclusion of all, and this must never be compromised. This is not fixable by a poorly written apology and a few matches on the sidelines; this is the time for MLS to show its true colors.

Vanzeir was able to cause this harm in his first-ever MLS start; allowing him to play again would be absurdly irresponsible of the league. Additionally, part of the onus falls on Vanzeir’s club. Club allegiance and rivalry aside, New York Red Bulls must end their relationship with Vanzeir. Anything short of a complete contract termination fails to meet the “zero-tolerance” threshold the league and the club sets in their statements. In a sport where clubs are built on community, any stance besides complete inclusivity is harmful.

In the aftermath of the incident, Red Bull Manager Gerhard Struber’s statement was so unbelievably inadequate. Struber released just two sentences, stating that he should have removed Vanzeir immediately. Along with this poor apology attempt came a video of Struber defying his players’ wishes and keeping Vanzeir in the match. In an era where managers will refuse to let matches continue in the face of discrimination, an active effort to do the opposite is beyond unacceptable from Struber.

The path forward is simple. MLS and the New York Red Bulls must show that this cannot happen in our league. Vanzeir must never play another MLS minute. Struber must be out of his current role.

To MLS and the New York Red Bulls: Do the right thing.

Evan Cohen is a Philadelphia native currently studying at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana. A Philadelphia Union supporter since the club's start in 2010, Evan began contributing to Philadelphia Soccer Now in 2023.

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