COMMERCE CITY, COLO. – Sounders FC stretched its unbeaten run to five games Friday – but at a terrible price.
In the third minute of what eventually became a 1-0 win over Colorado, third-year midfielder Steve Zakuani suffered a fractured fibula and tibia in his right leg after a hard slide tackle by Rapids midfielder Brian Mullan.
Mullan was sent off with a straight red card.
Zakuani remained on the grass in obvious pain as his teammates looked away, apparently sickened by the obvious damage to their teammate’s leg.
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Zakuani was removed on a cart and immediately flown to a nearby hospital where the diagnosis was made and surgery scheduled.
Just seconds before the incident, Mullan had been knocked down by a Sounders player and gestured to referee Silviu Petrescu for a call. When none came, he ran back into the play and immediately slid into Zakuani’s legs.
Mullan, 33, was part of the 2002 MLS Cup champion Los Angeles Galaxy under current Sounders coach Sigi Schmid and has made four appearances with the U.S. national team. He also leads Colorado in fouls committed.
“I’m sorry for Steve,” Mullan said. “It was never my intention to injure him in the least. It’s a tackle that I’ve done hundreds of times and would probably do again. I had no intention of hurting him. It’s a freak, freak thing, and I apologize and wish Steve a speedy recovery.”
The sequence seemed to affect both teams. Colorado was forced to play more than 85 minutes at a one-man disadvantage. However, Seattle was forced to play without its top goal scorer over this season and last. And the Sounders played on looking distracted and shaken.
“Losing Zakuani early on that tackle was a big emotional blow for the team,” Schmid told Fox Soccer Channel. “It’s something that we had to fight through, as well, during the game. We tried to ignore it, but it’s in the back of people’s minds. It wasn’t our best game, but we got three points.”
The lone goal came in the 19th minute. The play began when Seattle midfielder Brad Evans got to a loose ball in the Sounders’ defensive end and cleared it to O’Brian White around the center line. White raced down the right side before passing to Mauro Rosales, who took one touch and then sent the ball on to Fredy Montero.
At the top of the penalty area, Montero rolled a shot under charging Colorado goalkeeper Matt Pickens.
The goal was Montero’s first since August – a stretch of 16 games and almost 1,300 minutes of play.
“It’s good that he got the goal and it’s good for Fredy,” Schmid said. “He should have some confidence that he can hopefully carry with him into the next game.”
However, the Sounders had few serious chances after that, and could never take full control over the defending MLS Cup champions despite the one-man advantage. Seattle finished with 11 shots to Colorado’s nine and put four on goal to Colorado’s two.
In the final minutes, the far better chances belonged to the Rapids (3-3-0). However, Seattle (2-3-3) held on, moving to 2-0-3 over its last five games and recording its first shutout of the season.
The Sounders return to action one week from today when Toronto FC visits Qwest Field.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
More information and game discussion is available at blog.thenewstribune.com/soccer.