MLS bans Union's Wagner 3 games following racist abuse probe

Philadelphia Union defender Kai Wagner has been suspended for three games by MLS for violating its on-field anti-discrimination policy, the league announced on Tuesday.

The discipline was meted out following an investigation into allegations that Wagner racially abused New England Revolution forward Bobby Wood during a playoff game between the two sides on Oct. 28.

Wagner will miss Game 2 of the playoff series against New England on Nov. 8, and Game 3 on Nov. 12, if that match is necessary. Philadelphia won Game 1 by a score of 3-1. Depending on how the Union progresses in the postseason, Wagner will miss at least the Eastern Conference semifinals and could miss out on the Conference finals, pending the outcome of the series against the Revs.

If the Union is eliminated from the postseason before the full suspension can be served, then it will carry forward into the first match of the next season. Wagner is also required to continue to participate in league-mandated education and training sessions, a process that has already begun, and must remain in full compliance with a program directed by a league-appointed restorative practices expert.

Wagner is alleged to have said a German word toward Wood that is considered racist toward Asians around the 86th minute of Game 1 following a foul committed by New England forward Giacomo Vrioni on Philadelphia defender Nathan Harriel.

This sparked a series of confrontations between Revolution and Union players that involved pushing and shoving. In the video from the match, Wood and Wagner can be seen arguing. Wood's ancestry is part Japanese and African-American. Wagner is a native of Germany, and Wood speaks German, having played there at youth and professional level for 14 years.

Sources tell ESPN that the possible penalty to be assessed on Wagner varied over the course of the weekend. Some penalties were for less than three games but with some games deferred, while in other moments, the suspension was more severe. The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to publicly discuss the disciplinary process.

Ultimately, the league decided on three games, which is less than the six games issued to New York Red Bulls forward Dante Vanzeir back in April for racially abusing San Jose Earthquakes forward Jeremy Ebobisse. A source with knowledge of the league's disciplinary process indicated that much of the difference in penalties centered on the fact that initially, Vanzeir denied the charges (although he later admitted to them) while Wagner immediately admitted to what he was alleged to have said.

In a statement, MLS said, "In reaching this decision, MLS considered many factors, including Wagner's immediate acceptance of responsibility for the violation, willingness to participate in a restorative practices process to repair the harm caused, and his cooperation with the league's investigation."

Wagner, 26, is widely expected to leave the Union at the end of this season, given that he is in the final year of his contract with the club. In his five seasons in Philadelphia, Wagner has been named an MLS All-Star in 2021 and 2022 and was an MLS Best XI selection in 2022.