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Injuries to Zakuani, Ferreira shake up Western race
by Ridge Mahoney, April 25th, 2011 1:57AM

TAGS:  fc dallas, mls, seattle sounders


[MLS] Sometimes lost in the debate of why the Western Conference has been superior to the Eastern Conference the past few seasons is that, as a group, the Western teams have a better, deeper pool of attacking players. That balance has shifted with the sidelining of Seattle winger Steve Zakuani and FC Dallas playmaker David Ferreira due to fractures they suffered last week.

A late, wild tackle by Colorado’s Brian Mullan Friday flattened Zakuani and left him with a fractured tibia and fibula that may keep him out for the rest of the season. A crunching tackle by Vancouver defender Jonathan Leathers left Ferreira with a double fracture in his right ankle; his prognosis is not known.

How those teams compensate for the sudden losses of their most dynamic and effective players is crucial to their own playoff hopes, and also affects the balance between the conferences for wild-card spots should those teams not finish among the top three Western teams. Last year, they finished two points apart; FC Dallas was third in the conference with 50 points (tied for fourth on overall points) and Seattle ended up in fourth (sixth overall) with 48. This season, the top three in each conference qualify automatically and the next four teams based on points earn wild-card spots.

Zakuani’s injury does make Sigi Schmid’s job easier, theoretically, since it subtracts one offensive weapon from an array of attackers that is already overloaded. But nobody else on the Seattle roster, and very few players in MLS, are as dangerously left-sided as Zakuani, whose brazen dribbles and scything runs can circumvent, stretch, or pierce back lines.

He tied for the team lead in goals with Fredy Montero (10) last year and was leading the team this season in scoring with two goals and two assists. Midfielders Alvaro Fernandez and Erik Friberg have both played on the left, as well as the right, this season. Left unresolved is how Schmid can tweak the lineup to get both Montero and recent addition Mauro Rosales on the field together, or whether he must choose between them. Zakuani had been the one constant in a ever-changing formula with Fernandez out of form, Montero recovering from a wrist injury, and Nate Jaqua and O’Brian White vying for time at forward.

Other possibilities are second-year man Mike Fucito, who has yet to play this season, and Leo Gonzalez, who has played some left mid in the past while normally first-choice left back.

Ferreira’s injury is yet another change to FCD, which in the offseason jettisoned midfield linchpin Dax McCarty as well as attacker Atiba Harris and forward Jeff Cunningham. Playing as a second forward also tasked with playmaking duties, Ferreira won MVP honors with eight goals and 13 assists and led Dallas to MLS Cup, in which it lost to Colorado, 2-1, on an own goal in overtime.

He leads FCD this season with three goals and one assist and not yet known is if a lengthy absence would cause a switch in FCD’s formation. In the Vancouver game, Eric Avila replaced Ferreira in the 55th minute, forwards Fabian Castillo and Milton Rodriguez each played a half, and Eric Alexander replaced Marvin Chavez in the 71st minute.

Avila scored the winner 12 minutes later but it’s stretch to think he’s ready to replace Ferreira straightaway. Brazilian Ricardo Villar joined the team during the offseason and might get a chance to earn a spot though he’s only played 57 minutes in MLS.

“With the pressures of trying to be the same attacking-minded and explosive type team that we've been in the past, we know that a lot of pressure will be on David [Ferreira],” FCD coach Schellas Hyndman had said when Villar was signed in February. “Not only is David a good player, but now he's MVP and I think Villar coming in will be able to take some of that pressure off David.”

Without Ferreira, the pressure will be on someone else, as well as FCD.

  1. Wayne Root
    commented on: April 25, 2011 at 8:34 a.m.
    I may be wrong, but I think it's about time US refs started getting a little bit stricter about the violence before it starts and crack down before not after it has happened and someone is seriously injured.

  1. Margaret Manning
    commented on: April 25, 2011 at 11:06 a.m.
    The odd thing about the Zakuani case is that the game had barely begun; the refs had little opportunity to set the "tone" of the game. What the legaue needs to do now is to suspend Mullan for 10 games and fine him an amount that will leave an impression.

  1. Ric Fonseca
    commented on: April 25, 2011 at 1:26 p.m.
    Oh come now Ragin' Ridge, for you to say that having Zakuani out makes Coach Sigi Schmid's job "easier" is akin to say that it was a "good thing" To me it is obvious that you probably never played the game much less coach a team, yet you use your literary licensed pen to say a coach's job get's "theoretically" easier after an injry is pathetic. To Margaret Manning's statement that the game had "barely begun" is just as pathetic because a referee sets the tone of the game as soon as he arrives to the stadium and immediately when the game begins. A good ref worth his weight in pay, should do this. As for Mullen, someone in another comment suggested that in cases such as these, the offending player must also sit out as long as the injured player with a reduction in pay.

  1. Bill Anderson
    commented on: April 25, 2011 at 3:07 p.m.
    The official in the Zakuani incident was not to blame. The game had just begun. The ref immediately showed the red card. The ref kept a tight leash on the rest of the game (lest there be another incident). The blame is on FOREVER STAINED Brian Mullan, who with anger and immaturity, savaged Steve Zakuani. This bum should get a 10-15 game suspension and the largest fine in league history.

  1. Bill Anderson
    commented on: April 25, 2011 at 3:11 p.m.
    Don Garber can flex his muscles on this case. He needs to send a message to the rest of the league (players and coaches) that this will not be tolerated. We don't need another top tier attacking player struck down by a lifetime bit player like FOREVER STAINED Brian Mullan. If Don doesn't smack down this punk, the anti-soccer message will be unmistakeable.

  1. Steven Erickson
    commented on: April 25, 2011 at 6:19 p.m.
    I am a fan of MLS and now a FORMER fan of the Rapids. This is not a new tactic for Mullan, the COACH never stepped up to the plate to stop this rogue and is now as much to blame as the FOREVER STAINED.

  1. Ernest Irelan
    commented on: April 26, 2011 at 9:21 a.m.
    I think that Mullen should be banned the rest of the season, plus, the team fined for the late hit on Zukarani. It was something that one would expect from backstreet soccer instead of my youth as a footballer, should someone do violate the unwritten code of cheap shots, it was not long before someone would level the field to retaliate. In today's game, we are taught from day one to NOT do this, thus, we leave all appropriate response to the referees an the keep this stupid, clumsy type play out of the game, let them step up an control son attended a tryout for a pdl reserve team this past weekend, a player put a cheap shot from rear on a player, he was asked to leave. this is proper control...mho....nip it in the bud, let the player know that he is not wanted, who wants to pay to see sloppy play..who wants to see a skilled player sidelined by a cheap shot??

  1. Ernest Irelan
    commented on: April 26, 2011 at 9:29 a.m.
    By the way, GET WELL SOON ZUKAUANI, I know from my personal break of my Tibia at the ankle, it will be a year before you will be back up to normal...but, you will be...take my word..I know how painful that was, it will be for a bit more, then, that will subside, but, the pain of having to miss a year of play will not...stay with it keep up the spirit....

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