Following LA Galaxy’s training Saturday morning, Corner of the Galaxy’s own Josh Guesman sat down with Netherlands midfielder, Nigel de Jong, for a one-on-one interview at the StubHub Center. Long reputed as a quintessential hard-man of football (as exemplified by the nicknames he has earned, e.g., “The Lawnmower” and “The Destroyer”), de Jong opened up about his passion for American sports, his desire to take the plunge and join MLS, his impressions of the league thus far and how he views his future with the LA Galaxy.

On how Nigel de Jong made the decision to come to LA…

I figured it out quite fast, though. The opportunity came that I could leave Italy for America, at the age of 31, I think it was the perfect time for me to come here. I always wanted to end my career, probably, or once in my career play in America. When this opportunity came I just thought that I was ready and still think it was the best choice that I made over the years to come out here now, not at the end of my career, not in retirement, but still in full fitness to be a great player.

On his decision to leave Europe and come to America…

I had it already a long time in my mind because I’m a big fan of American sports when it comes down to the whole lifestyle and the sport history and sport influence that this country has. That’s why I was always intrigued about this country and also the sports culture like a said before so it was an easy decision for me to make when the LA Galaxy came.

On his passion for American sports and its sports culture…

My number one would be American football. I’ve been following the NFL quite close for a number of years. And basketball obvious. Apart from that, you’ve got football, you’ve got soccer. So yeah you’ve got different kinds of sports. I’m getting to know ice hockey now a little bit with the Kings obvious so I’ve seen them play a couple times in the Staples for a great atmosphere as well and that was good fun to watch. So yeah I’m getting the hang of it.

On what Nigel de Jong has enjoyed about living in L.A. aside from the soccer…

I think it’s just like for us European soccer players, professional soccer players, just to move around anonymous, I wouldn’t say totally anonymous because we’ve got like a big fan base in L.A. when it comes down to soccer football especially with the Latin kind of side, you know with the Mexicans, so but I think I can just go and do my thing when I’ll just walk on the streets and not always have to be worried about wearing a cap and a hoodie.

On whether the time he had spent rehabbing in Los Angeles several years ago played a role in his decision to join the team…

Yeah, of course. I mean, from all the clubs you can choose I think LA is the best club in the league. And especially with the background that I had which you said before with the league performances, so it made the transition even easier because I spoke with them already four years ago. It was the time that Robbie Keane had just joined the Galaxy. Yeah, it made the transition, what I said before, much easier to come out here.

On what, if any, credence he lends to Bruce Arena’s oft-stated view that, though Europe has more technical players and a longer history of soccer than the United States, Europeans do not necessarily understand the sport more than Americans…

I think you don’t really need to be from a different country to understand the game. I think when you once played soccer or football before I think you understand the game. We just developed it in Europe better than in America. That doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re further than Americans. No but I believe they’ve got a lot of knowledge here in America when it comes down to football. But you know how the game is, I mean the game how it’s been played in Europe, it’s much more developed because of football being the number one sport in Europe, and soccer maybe the fifth or sixth sport here. So it’s underdeveloped but with the Europeans coming in over the years I think the MLS is getting stronger.

On if anything has surprised Nigel de Jong about MLS during his first few games…

No, not really though. I’ve heard from the players and before from the coaching staff as well it’s quite a physical game and less than how it is in Europe system-wise and technical-wise. The only thing that had me going, that I had to adjust a little bit was about the weather conditions and the surfaces and the altitude and the traveling. I think apart from football I think that was the biggest concern and the biggest adjustment I had to go through.

On the impact that the extensive travel in MLS has on a professional soccer player…

It has a big, big effect. Obvious. I mean we are also just human beings, we’re not robots, you know what I mean. So everybody needs his rest. It doesn’t matter if you’re an athlete or just somebody that has a nine to five job. So that counts for us as well. We have to deal with it because it’s our profession and our job so, we deal with it. But at the end of the day it affects your body, in a way, so I that’s why I think the staff is hammering us always like to drink enough water, take your rest between the games, between the training sessions, and it’s for a reason – because you got a ninety minute game on Sunday and maybe during the weekend after again so yeah it’s hard for people to understand that kind of situation you are in at that moment before you really experience it yourself, but it is what it is. We are professional athletes and we’ve just got to go through it.

On whether he has noticed a difference between the level of refereeing in Europe versus MLS, particularly in light of the prolific number of red cards that have been issued thus far this season…

Yeah, it’s a big difference, to be honest. Without doing, with being respectful for the referees in this community, in this federation, but it’s a big difference, and a big difference in Europe. I mean, you’re much more allowed in Europe than it’s here in America, and we see that for the first couple of games, not in particular at our games but in general as well. I mean, the rules are changing every year and I see that here in America as well. In the MLS. This is the first year that I’ve experienced it and there is a big difference and a big gap between the level of referees here and the level of referees in Europe. And yeah, you got to deal with that, I mean, it is what it is, you can’t do nothing about it, that’s on the federation to improve, the same way how the MLS has to improve in general for the players. I think the referees and their committee got to improve as well, so we’re here to help each other, and we just got to go forward with it.

On whether de Jong adjusts his game in light of how strictly MLS referees have been calling games….

No no no. If I adjust my game then I can’t be the player that I am so I don’t back down for nothing, I mean, I just got to deal with it. All these years, always have to look at certain situations if you can go for a fifty-fifty but, if a fifty-fifty comes I always go a hundred percent so it doesn’t matter what kind of referee I have in front of me, I mean, you just have the player that you have to be.

On how the team’s preparation for this Sunday’s game against Portland has gone…

Preparation has been good. Of course, we’re still missing some key players. Keano, Robbie Keane, and Steven Gerrard so, but fortunately we got Gio back again, Dan Kennedy, so yeah, the squad is slowly slowly coming back together again. We’ve been, we had a good preparation this week in front of the game against Portland. We know it’s not going to be an easy game, especially against the defending champions, so they want to come out here and prove that they can play against us and win against us. But it’s not only against them, it’s against every team this year. Everybody wants to beat LA Galaxy. So you always have to go in with the mentality that you have to start a war straight on from the first minute of the game.

On what Nigel de Jong’s personal goals are with the LA Galaxy in 2016….

I just want to give it my best. Obvious this is my first year so I just want to give it my best and just be a part of a big success that’s here, that’s maybe going to happen here this year. I came here for a reason. Not because of the lifestyle and the nice things about life. I came here for a reason, to win a Cup. Because they didn’t win it last year so that’s the main reason. I want to be part of a successful team and hopefully with a win at the end.

On how Nigel de Jong sees his future with the LA Galaxy and whether he wants to be with the team for a long time…

Yeah, yeah, definitely, definitely. I want to be here for a long time. Hopefully for the next upcoming four years, five years. So I hope to finish my career here as well. I mean, just got to do step-by-step, and just see this year and we’ll see what happens.

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