When Brian Mullan’s reckless tackle fractured Steve Zakuani’s leg in two places last season, some observers said there was only one fitting punishment: Mullan should be suspended until Zakuani was able to return to the pitch.
Instead, Mullan was suspended for 10 games, while Zakuani is still struggling to return from the injury.
And so on Saturday afternoon, Mullan is expected to play against the Sounders at CenturyLink Field while Zakuani watches.
Zakuani said Thursday that he has no particular problem with that.
“I wish him the best,” he said. “ I never wish ill on anybody. I just want the fans to understand that I’ve got no issues with the guy. It’s not like we have some previous history and he came in to do it. It was just a bad tackle. I wish him the best. The fans will do what they need to do, but my advice is just let it go and support the team.”
Mullan decided not to address the issue publicly until after the game. But several members of Sounders FC weighed in Thursday, with most echoing Zakuani.
“We haven’t addressed it yet as a team, but I expect the guys to be professional about it,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “I think our fans will be as well. It’s an unfortunate situation what happened last year. Obviously Steve and Brian have come to terms with it. We just have to go on, and we just have to play a normal game and not make that the focal point.”
The incident occurred April 22 at Colorado.
In the third minute of what eventually became a 1-0 Sounders win, Mullan, apparently frustrated about a non-call a few seconds earlier, seemed to make a retaliatory tackle on Zakuani.
Zakuani was carted off the pitch with a fractured right fibula and tibia.
Mullan was sent off with a straight red card. A few days later, MLS ruled that the tackle was “reckless, egregious and showed utter disregard for the safety of his opponent.”
Mullan was fined $5,250 and issued the longest suspension for an on-the-ball tackle in league history: nine games in addition to the automatic one-game suspension that follows all red cards.
That suspension had been served by the time the Rapids visited Seattle in mid-July, but Mullan was left home.
This time around, he is expected to be in uniform.
Zakuani said he isn’t sure if he and Mullan will speak, and he expressed doubt about what such a meeting might accomplish.
“We can have the talk, we can not have the talk; it doesn’t change anything,” he said. “ I think he understands what it cost me. You can see the scar: I have a massive scar on my leg and skin grafts. Everyone knows it’s cost me a year of my career. There’s no getting around that. He understands that, but I don’t, like, want to hold that over his head. I want him, especially on Saturday, to come in and play his game. Let’s just play the game of football and try to get a win and then move on to the next week.”
General manager Adrian Hanauer said he expects fans to express themselves in appropriate ways.
“I’m not worried,” he said. “Our fans are passionate but, I think, sane. I’m more concerned with Steve Zakuani and getting him back on the field and our fans being able to appreciate the greatness that he can bring to our team as well.”
Zakuani is training with the club and expects to appear in a reserve match soon. He has said he hopes to be able to appear in a league game by summer but has resisted any more specific timetable.
No. 2 goalkeeper Andrew Weber suffered a high ankle sprain in a Reserve League match Tuesday and is expected to miss about a month. Bryan Meredith will serve as the reserve goalkeeper Saturday, and Schmid said the club will likely bring in another keeper from the league pool. Midfielder Mauro Rosales (knee) and defender Adam Johansson (hamstring) are improving. But Schmid implied both might be kept out of action this week, especially with a bye week coming up.
The full Zakuani interview is available online at blog.thenewstribune.com/soccer
Don Ruiz: 253-597-8808 email@example.com Twitter: @donruiztnt
Colorado at Sounders FC, 1 p.m., Ch. 6/16, 97.3-FM