Colorado midfielder Brian Mullan fractured the right leg of Sounders FC midfielder Steve Zakuani on a tackle that was “reckless, egregious and showed utter disregard for the safety of his opponent,” Major League Soccer ruled Thursday.
And the league backed up that conclusion by issuing the longest suspension for an on-the-ball tackle in its history: nine games in addition to the automatic one-game suspension that follows all red cards. Mullan also will be fined $5,250.
The Rapids responded with a statement that supported Mullan’s character but said neither he nor the club would appeal.
The tackle occurred in the third minute of Seattle’s 1-0 win at Colorado one week ago. Mullan had gone to the ground after becoming tangled with Sounders defender Tyson Wahl. Mullan got up, signaled to the referee for a call, and when no whistle followed, he immediately ran at Zakuani and made a sliding tackle that upended him.
Never miss a local story.
“I may have bodied him or shouldered him a little bit harder than normal,” Wahl said Thursday. “But I definitely didn’t make a dirty tackle. ... I think it was just normal physical play; but maybe it just ticked him off, unfortunately.”
Mullan was immediately sent off, while Zakuani was taken to the emergency room of Denver’s Rose Medical Center, where he was diagnosed with a fractured right fibula and tibia. He had surgery that night and returned to Seattle on Tuesday. Zakuani will be out for several months and may not return this season.
After the league’s ruling, Sounders general manager Adrian Hanauer said in a statement: “In situations such as this, the game is robbed of its brilliance. Steve Zakuani is a young, talented and highly entertaining player. He will be missed and we all wish him a speedy recovery. As a league, the commissioner has stated his intention to be more protective of dynamic, attacking players. Hopefully this suspension is a step in the right direction.
“However, the harsh reality of this situation is that no length of suspension will bring Steve to action any faster.”
Colorado managing director Jeff Plush released a statement saying “we strongly disagree” with the punishment for a tackle the club considers simply “ill-timed and unfortunate.”
Sounders coach Sigi Schmid, who coached Mullan during their time with the Los Angeles Galaxy, portrayed the tackle and its results as unfortunate for all concerned.
“I think everybody who’s been involved with this – whether it’s Steve Zakuani or Brian Mullan – have been severely affected,” he said. “Obviously, Steve is injured and can’t play; and now Mullan is suspended and can’t play. But also emotionally as well for those two individuals and the teams involved, it’s left an impression on everyone.”
Sounders FC is planning a tribute to Zakuani at Qwest Field on Saturday when the team returns to action against Toronto FC.
Signs displaying Zakuani’s No. 11 will be distributed at the stadium gates, and fans are invited to sign large get-well cards that will be located at the Soccer Celebration in the north stadium entry and near the main entrance to the Pro Shop.
Fans also are invited to send their individual wishes to Zakuani through SoundersFC.com or by mail in care of Sounders Community Relations, 12 Seahawks Way, Renton 98056.
SURGERY FOR WHITE
Sounders forward O’Brian White, who has started all seven games this season, underwent surgery Wednesday to remove a blood clot in his left leg.
White, 25, is Seattle’s co-leader with two goals and also has two assists.
The club had no word on when he might return, but he certainly will miss the game against Toronto, his former team.
“They’ve really got to make a determination and figure out what exactly caused the clot,” Schmid said. “And until they can do that, what usually happens is people are on blood-thinning medication and while you’re on blood-thinning medication you can’t be in a contact sport.”
Schmid listed three candidates to fill White’s spot in the lineup: Nate Jaqua, Mike Seamon and Lamar Neagle.
Don Ruiz, 253-597-8808 firstname.lastname@example.org twitter/donruiztnt blog.thenewstribune.com/soccer