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Sounders’ Zakuani suffers broken leg bones in Seattle’s win over Rapids

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The final score, a 1-0 road victory for the Seattle Sounders Friday night, hardly mattered in the grand scheme of things. 

Steve Zakuani, one of the up-and-coming talents in MLS known for his ability to make things happen on offense with blazing speed on the wing, suffered a fractured tibia and fibia (according to the club) in the third minute of Seattle's match against the Colorado Rapids. The horrific injury was the result of an overly aggressive and reckless tackle by Rapids midfielder Brian Mullan, who was immediately sent off with a straight red.

The sound of the impact of Mullan's boot crashing into Zakuani's right leg could be heard loud and clear, even on the Fox Soccer Channel broadcast. Zakuani sat up in shock, then lay down and put his hands over his head as trainers rushed to his aid and players on the field turned away in horror.

Zakuani was taken off the field in a stretcher — Sounders fans raining cheers of support on him — and transported from Dick's Sporting Goods Park to a local hospital emergency room for X-rays. 

The Sounders had a one-man advantage for the rest of the game, and even though they almost gave up a tying goal several times, were able to score the only goal needed to win. Fredy Montero sent in a low shot under the reach of Rapids goalkeeper Matt Pickens in the 19th minute. 

The goal was the result of a run by forward O'Brian White up the right side, then his pass to midfielder Mauro Rosales, who tapped the ball to a wide-open Montero for the finish. It was Montero's first goal of the season and a team-leading third assist for Rosales. 

The Sounders, with their first road victory of the season, climbed into a tie with the Rapids for third place in the Western Conference at nine points. The Rapids (3-3) lost their third straight match after winning their first three.

Seattle (2-2-3) made changes along its back line, coach Sigi Schmid opting to start Patrick Ianni for Jeff Parke at one center back spot and Tyson Wahl for Leo Gonzalez at left back. The two were worked over by the Rapids' attacking players, but the Sounders didn't concede a goal.

The Rapids pounded away on the attack and controlled more possession despite playing a man down. The Sounders seemed to let up on the gas after their goal but had a couple of opportunities, including a chance to take a two-goal lead when White collected a loose ball in front and took a shot. But Pickens was there for the save.

With Marvell Wynne and Colorado's defense limiting the Sounders' offense, the Rapids were able to push forward. In the 89th minute, the activity was heavy in front of Seattle keeper Kasey Keller but no goal came out of two corners and a high deflection. 

The final whistle blew after four minutes of extra time. Afterward, it was clear that Zakuani's injury was on the Sounders' minds. Team broadcaster Arlo White said via Twitter that Zakuani was to have surgery that night.

"Something we had to fight through during the game," Schmid told FSC in a postgame interview.


  1. Oh get real with the pulling of the heart strings. All these guys play hard and tackles are part of the game. They all know the risk of injury exists.

  2. You obviously have no clue about Mullan. Not only is that no his usual style of play, the guy was seriously upset about what happened to Steve. Mullan is one the good guys who made a bad tackle.

    Anyone who believes that Mullan had intent has never met the guy or watched him play the last 10 years. You guys should just shut the hell up.

  3. The top 10 in FCs for 2010, according to

    52 Conor Casey, COL
    51 Atiba Harris, DAL
    49 Daniel Hernandez, DAL
    45 Daniel Lindpere, NY
    44 Kei Kamara, KC
    44 Fredy Montero, SEA
    43 Edson Buddle, LA
    43 Tony Tchani, NY
    42 Roger Espinoza, KC
    41 Wilman Conde, CHI

    Buy my bad: looks like Mullan may in fact have cracked the top 10 in 2009, coming in at 8th, but still a few places off the pace of such thugs as Kyle Beckerman and Fredy Montero.

  4. If you wanted to compare de Jong’s tackle on Holden and Mullan’s on Zakuani, instead of lumping the 2 tacklers together in the same category, then you shouldn’t have said “legbreakers like Mullen and Nigel De Jong”.

    And if you want to be viewed as credible on the matter, then you shouldn’t incorrectly claim Mullan led the league in fouls last year and played the same way in Houston and so forth when in fact he hasn’t even cracked the top 10 in fouls committed either of the past 2 seasons.

    Again, a lot of hyperbole and exaggeration here and not a lot of rational commentary…

  5. It’s a rational comparison to Nigel De Jong’s tackle on Stuart Holden (two-footed, late, over the ball). That was the point of the comparison, whether or not Mullen has the same past.

    But let’s be clear, we’re talking about a guy who led MLS in fouls last season, and had a similar approach in Houston. This is consistent with his ‘attack dog’ style. There’s always a fine line between ‘rough’ and ‘dirty.’ He crossed it with that play. Whether or not he has before is another discussion.

    As for who would make the call on these plays. I’d say there should be a discipline committee made up of an MLS official, a retired referee, 1 or 2 retired players, and an inactive coach. I think that would ensure that when suspensions were handed down for this sort of thing, it was balanced. (And yes, I’d do the same in other sports, just substitute the proper officials.)

  6. I have also voiced support for that approach of keeping the fouler out as long as the injured player, though you unfortunately then put a lot of weight on judgment and guesswork. Compare with the Ferreira broken ankle situation just the following day, for example.

    But that’s not what I was talking about. I was talking about so much of the hyperbole that is in fact evident in much of the commentary above. A lot of ranting, a lot of vindictiveness, a lot of overlooking of the reality of the situation and Mullan’s past play and so forth. There is for example no rational comparison to be made with Nigel de Jong, and yet numerous people assume it’s a valid comparison.

  7. Hyperbole? No RB. It isn’t hyperbole. I’ve advocated for this several times in the past, including Nigel De Jong’s leg breaker on Stuart Holden.

    It’s always been my conviction, in EVERY sport, that if a player maliciously or recklessly cheap-shots another player, then they should be banned for as long as the player they injure is out, up to and including lifetime bans.

    That kind of behavior is assault in the real world, and it should be treated as such on the field as well.

  8. It’s unfortunate to see this much low quality commentary on this site, with its otherwise high quality content. You could see it in the xenophobic remarks about the first leg of the CCL final, and you can see it again here in the hyperbole and lack of reason in addressing this foul. Even Sigi Schmid, who has coached Mullan, said he knows Mullan didn’t intend to do that and sometimes these things do happen.

    Just try to focus on the positive, though, so thanks as always to Ives and his staff for the great work.

  9. Get well soon Steve! And to see so many supporters of other clubs, especially Timbers fans wishing him well is top class.

  10. It wasn’t an accident; it was a chase-down, two-footed hatchet job. There was obvious premeditation and retaliation involved.

    That’s a dirty play, whether or not the guy has a history of dirty play. It’s EXACTLY the kind of play that FIFA and ‘most’ leagues have been saying they want to ban from the game for a decade.

  11. There’s only one way for these kind of utterly reckless and malicious tackles to be brought to an end. And that kleptocrat Blatter could actually do something useful for the game in this by doing it.

    There needs to be a simple rule for the legbreakers like Mullen and Nigel De Jong: You take a guy out with a two-footed, over-the-ball tackle, your suspension lasts as long as the injured player is out.

    If that means he forced a guy into retirement, then it’s a permanent worldwide ban.

    But Garber could at least make sure Mullen doesn’t play in MLS before Zakuani returns. And it would only be just.

  12. Portland Timbers supporter. Get well Zakuani, really is a shame, such a talent. Best part of a rivalry is seeing 2 teams go at it full-strength. Won’t see it now.

    One of the things that I have really appreciated about getting to watch MLS in person so far, is the talent and skill is such a step up from USL, D2, NASL or whatever.

    And to think we thought we left that type of cruddy play behind and then you see this type of BS.

  13. We need more skill guys like Zukuani and less talentless hacks like Mullen. This is what’s wrong with MLS.
    Unlikely he’ll ever be the same and Seattle fans will be oohing and ahhing over his pk goals next year like DC does now.

  14. Los Angeles here . . .

    Mullan’s hip hadn’t hit the ground before he was under Zakuani. He went in with the clear intent to injure. He knew exactly what he was doing. People’s opinions about whether or not he is a “dirty” player before this incident are irrelevant.

    Garber needs to throw the book at Mullan and the Rapids, who were a bunch of thugs before this incident. It isn’t just a question of punishment for this particular hit. The MLS has been turning a blind eye to crap like this for a long time. The Philadelphia Union are another team whose coach is instructing his players to be “physical.” Playing hard is one thing. Playing to injure is another. It is time to stop it.

    The world’s perception is on the line here. Garber’s either running a league for thugs, or he is running a league for world class players and world class fans. This is a defining moment to send a signal to teams, players, refs, and to the fans who pay the bill. (BTW, Garber need only look at the NBA where the “physical” play has made that league unwatchable. It’s not sumo wrestler rather than guys who can play ball.)

    Just to drive the point home. Zakuani is – I repeat IS – a rising star in the league. But this on the field assault could have happened to Donovan, Angel, Henri, or Agudelo, Garber needs to punish Mullan AND the Rapids with the same ferocity that he would have if Mullan had broken Beckham’s leg.

    Full season suspension, $20k fine, Rapids 2012 1st round draft pick to the Sounders.

  15. Zakuani represents the future of MLS. He’s bright, talented, and a good person.

    Mullan represents the old MLS. He’s “physical” (aka low skill), boring, and now a reckless idiot.

    It wasn’t just a reckless and irresponsible tackle, it was also incredibly dumb.

    Which MLS would you rather see? A bunch of Zakuani types playing an exciting style or a bunch of Mullan’s? It’s a rhetorical question. Garber needs to send a message that the future of league belongs to the Zakuani’s but the Mullan’s will be weeded out.

  16. The only way these types of fouls will be reduced is if the offending player is suspended for the length of time the injured player is out. Now we would have their attention…

  17. Mullan should receive a multi-match ban. I’m thinking like 10 matches. That was a retaliatory strike for not receiving a foul call moments before. Perhaps Mullan is not a “dirty” player in general, but he clearly lost his mind completely in this moment. There is no number of hindsight apologies that can compensate.

    Zakuani is likely out for 6 months at a minimum and will likely never quite play the same again from this injury.

  18. From Portland… very sorry to see this happen to Zakuani. I was looking forward to seeing him play against the Timbers this year. Hopefully his recovery goes well and we’ll see him on the field sooner than expected.

  19. We – and MLS – should be protecting its best players like Zakuani instead of defending “physical play” from guys who lack skill.

  20. Doesn’t matter if Mullan intended or didn’t intend to break Zakuani’s leg. His actions (double-footed slide tackle at speed and weight behind it) would result in broken leg maybe 8 out of 10 times. Totally wreckless and unprofessional! MLS needs to send a message to brutes like Mullan.

  21. Mullan is the prototypical player with athleticism and no talent. Uses braun over skill, size over ability. He should be suspended for half-dozen games and fined. Shame a moron like him can do that to such a promising talent as Zakuani.

  22. I actually have a bigger problem with this incident because it happened so early in the game.

    It is one thing if Mullan had been getting fouled for the whole game and finally couldn’t take it anymore. This happened 3 minutes in – there was no history that the MLS ref wasn’t protecting Mullan in this game. A big suspension for Mullan must come.

  23. I suffered the same accident playing soccer a couple years ago. They will probably put a a metal rod in the tibia and let the tibia act as a splint for the fibula (that’s what they did in my surgery). It took me 9 months to be able to play full action/speed/acceleration again bc the bone was still weak from where it broke and my muscled atrophied.. Granted I didn’t have any trainers like Zakuani will, but he’s out for a while, which is so sad. good luck on the recovery Zakuani

  24. Every game has calls or no calls you don’t agree with. BUT…

    You’re being completely irresponsible when you retaliate cuz you didn’t get a call. Players need to show more composure and professionalism.

    You could hear the pop and watch the leg flop…ouch…

  25. +1

    The entire league, players, and fans are watching this. MLS has an opportunity here to perhaps change some of the thuggish play that masquerades as ‘physical’ defense in the league with an appropriately severe punishment. I hope for the sake of growing the league and other skilled players they take it.

    Yes I know injuries happen, even similar ones in all leagues across the globe. But these kind of challenges happen too often in MLS and often go unpunished. We fans bemoan the refs but players have respponsibility here too.

  26. It’s ridiculous to call that an “accidents happen” kind of play. Mullan was mad he did not get the foul call, and by golly, he was going to show the ref and send a message to Zakuani that he wasn’t going to fly up and down the field. By golly, Mullan made sure that was the case.

    Yes, accidents happen in all sports, terrible accidents, and usually they are just part of the game. But in this case Mullan got hot-headed and extremely reckless, for no good reason. That was not an innocent 50-50 challenge in which Mullan’s goal was to get the ball. That was secondary to the message he wanted to send.

    Likewise, MLS should send him a message.

  27. Whether or not Mullan intended to injure Zakuani (which he certainly didn’t) it still doesn’t matter. It was the worst tackle in MLS history (a history that’s often been known for its ugly, physical play). The most disturbing part is that Mullan said he would try that same tackle again. He needs some reflection on that. He should be suspended the rest of the season and through the playoffs. At that point MLS can reassess his involvement with the league and reinstate him if they’re satisfied with his own rehabilitation. If they are, then reinstate him without reservation and move on from this hideous incident for good. His overall body of work has been relatively solid except for this.

    I think Zakuani can come back from this. As horrible as it was to to see it seems like a clean break and that’s actually easier to come back from than if he blew out his knee. It will be a long, hard road back and it will be at least a year of intense rehab after surgery before he can even think about returning. However, he’s still young and in great shape and that will help.

  28. H-town, normally I agree with people who say that this board over reacts. No this time, though.

    Mullan lost the ball – 3 minutes into the game. He was mad that no foul was called and was going to hurt somebody – I repeat 3 minutes into the game. Did he intend to break a leg – no he probably didn’t, but was he going to hit someone and hit them hard – yes. This was no accident. That is bush league and needs to be dealt with severely by the MLS.

  29. Wow! Holy over-reaction Batman! What happened to Zakuani is terrible. Mullan did not intentionally break his leg and is not a dirty player. He will serve a hefty suspension and fine. This is soccer, and accidents happen, especially amongst super-charged competitive men. Calm doen people and get a grip.

  30. I can see why Seattle didnt look good the rest of the game. The tackle so upset and angered me that I stopped watching. Zakuani is the kind of player I love to see in the MLS – as a fan with no true home team – and there are far too few of them.

    I dont care what Mullan has done before in his career. He is a dirty player now and I really don’t want to watch Colorado if he’s on the field. You make yourself a pariah with that kind of tackle – just like Kermit Washington when he punched Rudy T.

  31. Zak has a GA deal. He can go back to Akron to finish his degree. I’m pretty sure he has his green card as well. He’ll be back in the pitch though.


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