The Seattle Sounders admit things didn’t feel right Monday, as they returned to training while teammate Steve Zakuani remained in a Denver hospital.
“There’s a cloud over us for sure,” veteran defender James Riley said. “We just lost one of our best attacking players and a great teammate, so I definitely think it was a little different vibe in practice. But we tried to get along as much as possible.”
Zakuani suffered a fractured lower right leg Friday when he was brought down on a hard tackle by midfielder Brian Mullan early in Seattle’s 1-0 win at Colorado.
But despite the apparent severity of the injury, coach Sigi Schmid said it is possible that Zakuani could return this season.
“There’s no timeline we can really establish at this point,” he said. “… When you talk to doctors, one time (his return this season) will be highly unlikely, and also one of the doctors said, ‘I think he can maybe play by the end of the season.’ It all depends on how things go on the recovery, and everyone’s different.”
Goalkeeper Kasey Keller was more optimistic than his coach or the doctors.
“I’ll go out on a limb and say he’ll be back for the playoffs,” Keller said. “Hopefully, he’ll have a good quick recovery. But we’ve got to move on. Obviously, he was a huge part of our team over the last amount of time he’s played. I think he’s been responsible for 40 percent of our total offense this season alone. So it’s going to be tough, but we have guys who need to step up and prove their worth, and it’s a good opportunity for them – but a huge loss for us.”
Schmid said he hasn’t decided how his lineup will change Saturday, when FC Toronto visits Qwest Field. However, he offered a long list of possibilities.
“Certainly (Alvaro) Fernandez came in (as Zakuani’s replacement at Colorado) and played in the left position,” Schmid said. “(Erik) Friberg played there when Steve couldn’t play in a game in New York, so that’s another possibility. Lamar Neagle has done well in the reserve games – he is somebody else who can play wide. Michael Tetteh right now is probably a better wide midfielder than he is left back, so he is a possibility. Miguel Montaño is somebody who can play there, (but he) needs to be sharper at practice on a daily basis in order to get himself in there. And then we can always alter a little bit the way we play.”
Meanwhile, Colorado could be facing an open spot in its roster. Major League Soccer is expected to take disciplinary action against Mullan today or Wednesday.
Mullan’s tackle on Zakuani came just seconds after Mullan had been knocked down by Sounders defender Tyson Wahl. Mullan made a gesture toward the referee, clearly asking for a call. When no call came, Mullan immediately ran to Zakuani and slid into his legs.
After the game, Mullan apologized for injuring Zakuani, but added “it’s a tackle I’ve done hundreds of times and would probably do again.”
After the game, players and coaches on both teams generally portrayed Mullan as an aggressive player, but not a dirty one.
However, after seeing the replay, several Sounders seemed to have changed their opinions, instead seeing the tackle was retaliatory.
Schmid said the league should consider intent while determining punishment.
“It’s tough to determine what somebody’s thinking: You’re not in his head,” Schmid said. “I’m not speaking as a coach right now: I know as a player if somebody comes into you and they’re fighting hard for the ball and they’re going for the ball and they miss-time to tackle, to me that’s one thing. If it’s a situation where they’re angry or upset about something, now they’re going, ‘Here’s my chance to get even,’ I think that’s another thing. That’s something I think the committee has to look at. … I do think that makes a difference. And you’ve got to look at somebody’s history.”
Don Ruiz, 253-597-8808 firstname.lastname@example.org twitter/donruiztnt blog.thenewstribune.com/soccer