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Orange County Blues 2016 Player Postmortem: Richard Chaplow

His good play was overshadowed by a very serious allegation.

OC Blues, Richard Chaplow Rich Crimi/Tulsa Roughnecks FC

English midfielder Richard Chaplow was undoubtedly the biggest midseason addition to the Orange County Blues in 2016. He may not have been a household name for American soccer fans, but he was the only player on the roster with English Premier League experience and was clearly expected to play a significant role late in the season.

And on the field, he was clearly a step above most of the players around him, scoring in his second appearance for Orange County and contributing two assists in the season finale, that crucial game where the Blues poured it on late to both win the game and move into the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Chaplow 2016 OC Blues statistics

2016 Games Played Games Started Minutes Goals Assists Shots SOG Yellow Cards Red Cards
2016 Games Played Games Started Minutes Goals Assists Shots SOG Yellow Cards Red Cards
USL Regular Season 8 7 634 2 2 15 6 3 0
USL Playoffs 2 2 240 0 0 3 0 0 0
U.S. Open Cup 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Total 10 9 874 2 2 18 6 3 0

So a good campaign for Chaplow, right? Well, for whatever good play he had, there was a cloud hanging over his head after LA Galaxy defender Robbie Rogers, on a rehab stint with LA Galaxy II, accused Chaplow of repeatedly using a homophobic slur during a game on Aug. 20.

Rogers, the only openly gay male pro soccer player in the United States at present, had never previously made any such accusation since he disclosed his sexuality. But while USL had a stream of the game, like every match, the video evidence was not there, and Chaplow insisted he did not say the slur he was accused of using. The Blues chose to stand by their player, and after an investigation, USL suspended Chaplow two games, but for the more flexible reason of “offensive and abusive language.”

In context, it appears Chaplow’s denials plus the lack of clear video evidence led to what was a pretty light punishment, if you believe Chaplow did say something hateful. If he hadn’t, then the USL wouldn’t have punished him at all, right? Instead, they took a middle ground, Chaplow likely agreed to a two-game ban to get it over with, and it basically seemed like everyone tried to shove the whole incident under the rug.

It’s not to say that players who do something bad can’t come back from it — several MLS players have been suspended for using homophobic language (caught with video evidence, and it should be noted, done to players who do not publicly identify as gay) and have continued their careers. But the evidence in those other cases was irrefutable, there was no “He said/he said” story at play. In the case of Rogers and Chaplow, the lack of evidence means there can be no clear exoneration of Chaplow or confirmation of Rogers’ accusation. As much as the parties wanted to move on, and admittedly pretty much did, there’s no question the incident was the primary talking point from Chaplow’s time this year with Orange County.

But the question of the future is a tough one. Chaplow served a punishment, so should he be tarred with a brush of being a homophobe, even if no investigation concluded that? Did the good play outweigh the headache that arose from this situation?

To be perfectly honest, the Blues’ dramatic run to get into the playoffs and then winning a first playoff game in team history did a substantial amount to put some distance from the incident. If the Blues had limped to a non-playoff finish, surely the Rogers-Chaplow incident would have been the single most memorable on-field moment of the season. And that would not have been a positive in any way for the Blues. But instead they finished strong, helped by Chaplow, and rewrote the story of the season to make it far more positive. Most likely, it was a little skill and a little luck that helped make that happen.

Of course, the question is what the future holds for Chaplow. He’s 30, could presumably play more, and has not been announced to be joining any other club, here or abroad, yet. Would the Blues bring him back? Would they want to bring back a talented player who at the very least offers language offensive and abusive enough that he would get suspended for it? Essentially, would it be worth it to continue a professional relationship with a player who brought a lot of negative attention to the club, especially as they embark on a new era in their history.

The answer seems pretty clear. We’ll see if that’s how it turns out in Orange County.

What do you think? Leave a comment below!