I didn’t hear the break, thankfully. I turned the radio on right after it happened, only to hear Arlo White describe it. Those who happened to be tuned in when it happened heard the sickening sound of Colorado’s Brian Mullan breaking Steve Zakuani’s tibia and fibula. It was a dangerous, reckless tackle, and while I don’t think Mullan meant to break Zak’s leg, he meant to take him out for sure. Mullan was pissed off after yet another MLS non-call, and wanted to take out one of our best players. He meant to knock him down, but I don’t think he meant to hurt him.
Still, it’s a huge blow to the Sounders to have Steve Zakuani out for an extended length of time. His speed, quickness, and agility are tough to replace — if these factors are even replaceable. Plus, Zak’s a class act. He plays the game the right way. He doesn’t jaw at the refs, and garners a lot of respect from other soccer players. It’s a tough blow. Especially now that big forward O’Brien White is out with a blood clot in his leg(thank God they caught that before it was fatal), and breakout player Mauro Rosales is a gametime decision. The Sounders have depth, but they may not have enough depth for all of the extra games this summer — Champions League and the US Open Cup in addition to all the regularly scheduled MLS matches.
Even though Mullan apologized, which was pretty classy I gotta say, I’m glad he was suspended for ten games. MLS needs to send a message that retaliatory tackles will not be tolerated. You don’t make a hard tackle into a guy with your cleats up. That’s not cool, and could be very dangerous. But for anything good to come out of this, MLS needs to take a look at its refs.
The reffing is horrible in the MLS. Absolutely awful. Refs miss more calls than not, and seem reluctant to give players a red card. You don’t see that in international soccer. Pepe got kind of a bullshit red (in my opinion) in the Barca-Real match. It was definitely a yellow (I think it was a hard tackle — that game was so full of drama that I honestly can’t remember). Yet the ref didn’t hesitate to try to calm the game down, keep the emotions between the two sides at a simmer rather than a boil, and send a message that dangerously physical play will not be tolerated. What happens in the MLS is that a ref misses a foul, and the team that feels like it should have benefited from the foul ends up taking out a player on the opposing side. This can escalate to dangerous levels. The fouls that do get called in MLS, more often than not, are phantom fouls where nothing ever really happened. Maybe it’s time for MLS to train its refs on what a foul looks like. Time for the league to get a little tougher on reckless play.
Don’t just suspend Brian Mullan for ten games to send a message. Reform your reffing system, MLS. Start calling real fouls, before more good players like Steve Zakuani get injured.