Report: MLS investigating Kai Wagner’s alleged use of a racial slur

Photo: Marjorie Elzey

MLS is reviewing allegations that Philadelphia Union left back Kai Wagner used a racial slur against New England Revolution striker Bobby Wood near the end of Saturday’s playoff game, according to a report from Pablo Maurer and Tom Bogert of The Athletic.

“MLS is aware of the allegation that a player used discriminatory language toward an opposing player, and a review of the matter is underway. The League has been working with the MLS Players Association and Black Players for Change on a process to address these types of allegations and will have no further comment during the pendency of the review,” Major League Soccer said in a statement.

According to the complaint, Wagner allegedly directed a slur at Wood in the moments following an 87th minute foul by Revs forward Giacomo Vrioni.

Wagner allegedly used a slur in German that targets Asian people. Wood, who is of Japanese and African American descent, speaks German and has spent the majority of his professional career in Germany.

Per the report in The Athletic, Revs players and coaches told the referees about the incident, which was noted in the referee’s post-match report.

The 26-year-old Wagner has been locked in a contract dispute for the Union in recent weeks, as he is set for free agency after the season. The sides have not looked close to reaching a deal, with Wagner publicly venting his frustration with the situation on Instagram.

It remains to be seen whether Wagner will be suspended or otherwise disciplined by the league. As a comparison, New York Red Bulls striker Dante Vanzeir earned a six-game suspension earlier this season for using a racial slur on the field.

A Wagner suspension would be a huge blow to the Union on the field. With Jakob Glesnes out with a sports hernia injury, Philly’s defensive corps is depleted, and manager Jim Curtin would have to get creative in next Wednesday’s match. Left back options include reserve Matt Real (just five starts and under 500 minutes in league play this season), starting right back Nathan Harriel (who’s looked uncomfortable offensively when asked to play on the left), and midfielder Leon Flach (who’s played left back only infrequently with the Union).

Off the field, a suspension would be an ignominious end to Wagner’s Union career.


  1. John P. O'Donnell says:

    They should just forget about playing any games until this is investigated. If the allegations are true, the Union should forfeit the series and move on to next year. If you really want to believe what you preach, the penalty should be extreme.

    • Jose blanco says:

      John, I agree. There is zero tolerance for that type of behavior. When someone shows you who they are, believe them. How many times has he used a racial slur in German that people didn’t understand? My brother and nephew were at the game and from what they saw was Kai pulling his eyes into a squinted position to mock Wood’s Japanese descent. Not sure what was said, but that’s what he saw. Very disappointed when someone my nephew admired had let him down. Now, we’re gonna be left with a very short bench in that position . That comes down to Curtin for not rotating players to get minutes so that they are ready in any situation should arise. If Matt Real is the back up and Jim uses everyone else other than him in that position, how will he get the minutes under his feet to be able to play at full peak in these type of situations. There were many games we were up by 2-3 goals and Jim would always leave the starters in. These are the times to get the bench in so everyone is game fit. Curtin never has a game plan and never coaches to what the game gives him. He makes the same subs regardless whether we need more offense or more defense. He leaves players in like Martinez who are on yellows and is more likely than not to get another one. He just doesn’t coach to what is in front of him. This team needs a rebuild starting with Curtin.

      • That’s f***ing ridiculous to bring Curtin’s coaching qualities up about an article about a racial incident.
        Get your priorities straight.

      • This is a non-factual, straight up lie. Wagner did not touch his own face at all. It was Wood who touched his own face to indicate what he thought Wagner said. Stop making stuff up.

      • Wow you jumped to a conclusion. Maybe he was gesturing to use your own eyes. You don’t know unless you were on the field and also speak German. I’ve never heard any of the Union players making any reference to Kai as being a racist . He is vocal and won’t take crap from the opposition. I’ve seen him come to the defense of his teammates dozens of time regardless of their race

    • I disagree about the team forfeiting. If the league thinks they have enough evidence that Wagner likely used a racial slur, suspend him for at least 5 games (the most the Union can still play this year). But to forfeit the season based on the actions of one player isn’t fair to the remaining players or fans of either team.

      • Jose blanco says:

        Andy, my comment was not putting Curtin’s coaching in with a racial incident. What I’m saying is that if we lose our best player because of KAI’s racial incident, Curtin doesn’t have a guy who has had minutes to fill the position… Real had done good with the limited minutes he was given this year, but for whatever reason, Jim hasn’t used him other than that. He’s your back up left back…but has rarely played anytime Kai has been injured or on red card suspension. Harriel is not a natural left back and has even said he doesn’t prefer the position. My point is, if you don’t get guys minutes and games here and there, your putting yourself in a poor situation for an outcome like this by throwing guys in cold. That was my point about the coaching. Like I said, plenty a games we were up 3-0 and Bedoya is in for a full 90. Why not pull him and get the bench involved? Goes for all positions..especially knowing how many games we were gonna play this year. He stuck with that same 11 game after game after game with a swap here and there. By the way, Andy..your tone is very harsh for a platform where people comment and debate. No need to go full nuclear.

      • Jose, I’ll admit my comment was a bit harsh. However, your comment DID discuss the job Curtin has done in response to a comment about a racial incident.
        Every other comment here is about either Wagner or racism in MLS/soccer in general and how it should be handled. Once we know what the results are of the investigation and what penalties will apply, we can discuss how the team will react on the field.
        Right now, I think that type of discussion takes away from the main point, that racist comments have no place on the pitch.

    • Forfeiting the series is completely insane and is absolutely not what’ll happen. If Wagner actually did this, suspend his ass and he should hopefully never suit up for the Union again.

      • John P. O'Donnell says:

        MLS needs to take the stand that they practice what they preach. A team getting disqualified from the playoffs would send a message. This is the third or fourth incident this year and clearly the message isn’t getting through. I’m tired of the virtual singling where they say all the right things but it keeps going on and on. Why did they take a knee… Why did they promise to give more coaches a chance. You want to be serious, this would get everyone’s attention. Wagner is out anyway but this would show that the league has zero tolerance and players better as well.

    • John,
      Where do you see the correlation to team forfeits and suspensions for possible racist comments to other offenses?
      For example, Dru Yearwood got only 3 games for kicking a ball at a girl’s head. The team was not assessed any penalties.
      You are proposing what seems to me to be a much more significant penalty here. Do you think Yearwood’s/Red Bull’s penalty should have been more severe, or is racist language a more severe offense than what he did? Honestly curious for your thoughts? Thanks!

      • I believe Yearwood actually got 4 games (at least according to Wikipedia). That being said, he did publicly apologize for the incident. Wagner has done nothing like that. Both actions are very wrong.

    • Devils Advocate says:

      How about forfeit the 2024 season?
      Let’s teach them a lesson.

      How about the league and it’s franchises cancel all games till 2025?
      Let’s teach them a lesson.

      How about all North American sports league cancel their seasons?
      Let’s teach them a lesson.

      How about UN sanctions any person that had anything to do with sports?
      Let’s teach them a lesson.

      After all, let’s practice what you preach.

      • Haha. So well stated. Racism is here to stay and has gotten significantly worse over the past 10-12 years. It’s a business. How many people would lose their jobs if “racism” went away. Someone has to be in charge of all those “no room for racism” signs. People in HR departments would be laid off, there’d be no reason to have sensitivity trainings and dei wouldn’t be a thing. Imagine all the people…..

    • You are being sarcastic I hope…. Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty. This whole story seems to be gaslighting at its worst. None of you were on the field. You can’t interpret a gesture and turn it into a racial slur. WHAT A BUNCH of BS

  2. Why is the article here written with a tacit attempt at “explaining away” Kai’s racism? If you read it closely, whether intentionally or not, there is a paragraph following the specifics of the allegation that “contextualizes” the incident by…discussing his contract situation(?!). Whether that was the intent or not, I would be grateful for editorial oversight to ensure that is not the case.

    • Chris Gibbons says:

      There isn’t an inch of that – zero tolerance for racism.

      Context is important for readers who might not know who Wagner is, where he’s from, or how he’s fit into the club over the years. Otherwise it’s just a guy who said something terrible.

      • Who is alleged – by a team who just finished a contentious game and now has to beat the Union twice in a row – to have said something

    • That is just woke baloney. Clearly the article is providing transition to the explanation that, if suspended, it is likely Wagner’s last game with the Union. That is why there is discussion of his contract status.

    • What does explaining his contract situation have to do with explaining away his racism? His contract and the racism are not linked except that both are relevant to Wagner’s place on the team, and therefore relevant for this article.

  3. That’s disgusting if true. But I don’t see anything in the video that’s different than what I saw in person. Two teams disgruntled with each other complaining at the ref. I have no idea from this if it was a bad challenge or something said.

  4. They’ve got 10 days to investigate it. Seems like more than enough time. Hope it’s not true. Would be a black eye for the team and for a player my household has really rooted for in his time here.

  5. Man. I have such mixed feelings about his stuff. I am grateful we have a zero tolerance policy in our country as compared to places we see abroad where cultural heathenism is a regular norm. That said… if a guy comes from a place where that is still a normative behavior (Europe) and gets caught up in a moment of insanity… if he just comes out and apologizes publically and privately I feel that is acceptable.

    Whatever. If he did it and it’s indisputable it happened…. there needs to be some consequence.
    One way or another I am going to try not to change my opinion of the guy. Hello of a player. Needs some cultural understanding in this country. Hope they can find a way to keep him.

    • Jeremy Lane says:

      I’m sort of with you on this, in that cultural differences are real. That said, Wagner’s been here (in the US and a member of the Union) long enough to know better. Furthermore, I’ve yet to see someone accused of this sort of thing own their mistake, make a true apology, and attempt to make amends. If Wagner were able to do that, there might be a pathway back, but I won’t hold my breath.

    • Jose blanco says:

      Nah, el pachy. Especially after the 2020 incident which created a a platform for the MLS to educate its players about racism and apply a zero tolerance policy. Teams were taking a knee in support, there have been several moments of education about what is not acceptable. In my mind, if those words come to your head regardless of being in a heated moment, you’re showing who you really are. A apology isn’t gonna change that. Trust me, I’ve been living in this country long enough to know and have been on the attacking end of it. Like someone mentioned earlier… this is the 4th time this year alone? All by European players? Yeah, the league should take this a step further since whatever policy they have isn’t sending the message.

      • .
        I appreciate Jose. I get it …as best I can.
        I’ve been to England a bunch of times and no matter how much I think I understand to look the other way when crossing the street once, twice four times a trip I step out and scare the shit out of me and a bicyclist.
        There are fine lines between what we know and what we can put in to praxis sometimes particularly under the influence of adrenaline and cortisol.
        Truth be told I agree with Jeremy above—. If he did say / do it and it mattered to him he’d be certainly making a statement… owned it apologized and said, “need to do better -I accept responsibility.”
        I guess we wait to find out if there is conclusive evidence… as innocent until proven otherwise in this at times God(awful) Great Country we have.

      • Let’s get real. How many times have players cursed at each other durring a game. How many times did a Hispanic player call some non Spanish speaking player make a derogatory comment to a player who does not understand Spanish and got away with it. Probably a thousand tomes in Concacaf games alone. You also don’t know what Wood said. As far as I know he has not made a public statement. Your all just feeding into this gaslighting by whoever started this accusasition.

  6. Jose blanco says:

    El pachy, fair enough. I respect other people’s outlook on certain situation but I guess this runs deeper for me.
    Thanks for the feedback

  7. Jose blanco says:

    Andy, you are right. I am jumping the gun while the investigation is ongoing. With my life experiences my mind goes right to.”.He’s done.” So I guess I was angered at the fact that he did this first and foremost and then the second thought was immediately who’s gonna replace him which led me down the rabbit hole of Jim’s coaching. The video that is circulating of the incident is an immediate reaction by Wood and another teammate pointing him out after whatever was said. It’s hard to think Kai is not guilty by Wood’s reaction right to the ref. I don’t think players would run to the ref if they were having a squabble of words… that usually results in a shoving match. But you can clearly see how upset he was immediately. Very disappointing to see

    • Exactly my thoughts regarding Wood running to the ref.

    • I read nothing from the video. I see no conversation in particular. I see Wood run to the ref and point, but I have no idea where. And I see players do that ALL THE TIME. Anytime they are arguing a foul or a lost ball — really anything— they point where it happened.
      I worry that folks are adding an interpretation to the actual evidence we have that is based on bias. We’re told there is an allegation, and someone drops a video and says “THIS IS WHEN”. But you and I don’t actually know that. Someone else has given the context, and I don’t know what their motives are. But the video doesn’t contain much of anything.
      To play devils advocate, it’s pretty convenient for a player who has been here for years to suddenly be accused of this by an opposing player who is losing badly and after their whole team has given up and started trying to get people sent off for the next game. When this type of thing has happened in the league in the past, Dante Vanzeir (I believe) and Gerhard Struber, it happened within a short period of first arriving. But we’ve seen nothing like this from Kai (unless you believe that no one else in the league speaks any German). Based on the game in front of us it’s hard to believe Bobby Wood was even irritating enough to upset Kai enough to say something like that. You have to want to hurt someone pretty bad to say those things.
      I’m just pointing out a different perspective. Actual evidence: WE HAVE NONE.
      I will be first to demand punishment if it is confirmed. But for now, the investigation needs to go forward.

      • Jose blanco says:

        Deez..if this is true and he did say something, believe me, it wouldn’t be his first time. He has a big temper as we’ve seen and I could almost guarantee he’s probably said things multiple times that the player doesn’t understand…IF this is true which I believe it is and here’s my reason why. U can lip read some of the context. Kai goes to another player after the incident happens and says something to the effect of ” he said something about my wife”. Then Kai proceeds to have a conversation with another player and u can clearly read the players lips as he says to Kai “What do you mean”. Then the player says a bunch of stuff you can’t read, BUT the last word of the conversation you can clearly see the player say “racist”. Go back and watch. Why would that word even be mentioned if it weren’t true. Case closed in my opinion

      • Jose, I think you missed my entire point. STOP believing whatever you think and wait for facts. It’s confirmation bias to look for proof of what you already believe. Now, you’re lip-reading and saying you know what happened? Come on.

  8. Any idea when a decision will come down? And wasn’t there some question at some point on a possible controversial tattoo(s) that Kai has?

  9. I want to think this is a player pissed his team was losing and maybe didn’t hear what was said properly. At the same time Kai definitely has a temper and could have said something he shouldn’t have. If he did say something offensive to Wood there needs to be consequences. I worked construction for 30 years and the things people would about someone and even to their face can be pretty ugly. I personally would not add to any of that crap. It hurts my soul. With an Italian last name I have had many an ethnic slur shot my way. I hope Kai didn’t say it. If it is proven he did that would stain him, the team, the whole organization. There may need to be stiffer punishment by the league. If the current policy isn’t having an effect, maybe docking team points.

  10. its BULLCRAP but zero tolerance is zero tolerance, respect does not equate to fair play

  11. Feels like it’s been one thing after the other this whole season. This one takes the cake tho…

    One of the best players on the team who has been loudly involved in a contract dispute with the front office, which has been supported by senior players on the roster (allegedly) using racial slurs…

    This is something that either destroys locker room morale and sinks the team or something that brings them all together.

    Whatever decision is made regarding suspension, I hope that the whole team is able to weigh in on it. Keep in mind Damien Lowe was on the receiving end of racial abuse by Taxi Fountas last year so I feel it’s important that this is treated with the seriousness it deserves as the team’s reaction will indicate to current and future players how they deal with this stuff.

    I truly hope Kai didn’t cross that line but I don’t believe Wood would fabricate this kind of accusation.

    Another thing I’ve been thinking about is the fact that at least one other player on the team speaks German in Leon Flach. Just wondering if he’ll be involved in the investigation as he has shared the field with Kai a lot and could theoretically know if he has said anything like this before.

  12. Alright. Well I argued that we should all wait until the facts are in.
    And they are.
    The league has suspended Wagner for 3 games and ordered him to go to training program. He apparently accepted responsibility.
    I don’t know what he said, but I’m incredibly disappointed in him. Good riddance if he leaves.

  13. 3 games. Nice job Kai. Way to fuck your team.

  14. First, looking at the article on the league website, it appears as though he accepted responsibility and cooperated with the investigation. So, while unacceptable, hopefully it was a momentary mistake in the heat of the game rather than an underlying issue.
    That being said, three games seems like a silly idea at this point. Not that I’m suggesting the penalty is too severe or too lenient (I have my opinion but it is irrelevant to this point). Three games means the Union have incentive to throw the game tomorrow night and hope they can win at home since that means he would be back for the conference finals if the Union get past Cincinnati (big if, but Wagner is gone for that game regardless). If they win tomorrow then he is out until MLS Cup. It should be through a specific round with a provision that it carries over to future seasons if the Union don’t advance far enough.

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