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GRAHAME L. JONES / ON SOCCER

Brian Mullan should leave MLS after vicious tackle of Steve Zakuani

Brian Mullan, the five-time MLS champion midfielder, has sullied his career with a leg-breaking tackle of Steve Zakuani, a 23-year-old whose career may now be in jeopardy. MLS fined and suspended Mullan, but he needs to leave the league.

April 30, 2011|Grahame L. Jones | On Soccer
  • Sounders midfielder Steve Zakuani (top) has his ankle broken on a sliding tackle by Rapids midfielder Brian Mullan in the first half of their game last week.
Sounders midfielder Steve Zakuani (top) has his ankle broken on a sliding… (Ron Chenoy / US Presswire )

Sifting through the tens of thousands of words that have been spoken and written about Brian Mullan over the past week or so, two conclusions are inescapable.

The first is that Mullan is not the devil that he is being made out to be.

The second is that he should retire right now from Major League Soccer.

Had he done so 10 days ago, he would have been remembered as an aggressive, ball-winning midfielder who won five MLS titles, one with the Galaxy, one the San Jose Earthquakes, two with the Houston Dynamo and a fifth last season with the Colorado Rapids.

Now, the five titles have been pushed into the background and Mullan, 33, will forever have his name linked with the appalling foul he committed when the Rapids played the Seattle Sounders on April 24 in Commerce City, Colo.

That foul, committed in anger, was a rash and ugly lunge from the side that took out Seattle forward Steve Zakuani and, in the process, broke Zakuani's right leg in two places.

The Sounders' No. 1 draft pick in 2009 and possibly the team's most exciting player, was airlifted to hospital and will be lost for the remainder of the season. How well his career can resume after the sickening incident will not be known for some time.

Mullan, meanwhile, first defended his tackle, then backtracked, then issued a seemingly less-than-heartfelt apology through his agent, then was slapped with a 10-game ban and a $5,000 fine by MLS.

"It is with regret that my tackle resulted in the injury of Steve, and I am deeply sorry to Steve and all those impacted by this injury," the apology stated.

Seattle defender Jeff Parke was one of those left unimpressed.

"You get an apology, and it was kind of insincere," he told the Seattle Times. "I really didn't feel it from him. That's the type of player he is. We know he's not a bad guy off the field, but that's like saying, 'For a split second I snapped.'"

No, what snapped was not Mullan's temper but Zakuani's tibia and fibula. The video of the foul makes for uncomfortable viewing and is hardly the sort of advertisement that MLS wants to see.

Nelson Rodriguez, the league's executive vice president of competition and game operations, said the record ban and fine were in line with the foul.

"In making this decision, the [disciplinary] committee took several factors into account: the timing of the challenge, the location on the field, the moments immediately before the challenge where it is clear that Mullan is frustrated, and the severity of the injury.

"Mullan's tackle is the type of play we need to eliminate from our game, and the level of discipline is consistent with our efforts to do so."

Colorado, astonishingly, begged to differ.

In an almost 400-word statement, Jeff Plush, the Rapids' managing director, said he was "disappointed by the reaction of some segments of the soccer community that have attempted to portray Brian as anything other than a terrific person and competitor."

Plush argued that the 10-game ban imposed by disciplinary committee members was out of proportion to the foul.

"We understand and accept their ruling that Brian's tackle was 'reckless' and agree that further discipline was warranted above the automatic one-match suspension that accompanies a red card," Plush said.

"However, we strongly disagree that Brian's tackle, although admittedly harsh by any account, should be punished more severely than premeditated acts in our league's history."

Adrian Hanauer, Seattle's minority owner and general manager, was more inclined to agree with Rodriguez that Mullan's tackle "showed utter disregard for Zakuani's safety."

In a comment made before the league took its disciplinary action, Hanauer told the Seattle Times what he felt should be done.

"I think maybe a good answer is Mullan gets to play when Steve is back on the field," he said.

That will resonate well with fans who would like to see the sport — not only in MLS but worldwide — crack down more heavily on thuggish play.

It might sound draconian, but what, really, is wrong with the concept?

Why should an "egregious" foul — that's the MLS description — not see the player who committed it be sidelined for the same length of time as the player who suffered the foul? How is that not justice being served?

For the moment, life goes on as usual, except for the Congolese-born, University of Akron-educated player who has spent much of the past week lying in a hospital bed wondering if his dream of a lengthy and successful soccer career is over at age 23.

Fortunately, Zakuani appears to be a resilient sort. With any luck, he will bounce back, much in the manner of D.C. United's Charlie Davies.

In a message thanking well-wishers, Zakuani said, in part: "The long road to recovery has already started, and I am fully aware of the mountains ahead of me, but I also know that I will go through all of the challenges ahead with a positive attitude."

As for Mullan, well, his best days are behind him. It would be better for all if he recognized that fact and retired.

grahame.jones@latimes.com

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