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Mullan's attack deserves harsh penalty
by Ridge Mahoney, April 26th, 2011 2:13AM
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TAGS:  mls


By Ridge Mahoney

The aftermath of Brian Mullan’s brutal tackle that left Steve Zakuani with a fractured tibia and fibula has turned the cyberworld into a soccer version of Texas Hold-‘Em:

Pick a number of matches for Mullan to be suspended, and then raise or call. Or check, to see if somebody else ups the stake. Right now, most of the money is on at least three but no more than five, and I think it has to go higher.

In Mullan’s favor are certain factors: He didn’t lead with the elbow to deliver a vicious blow to the head, which earned Andy Herron a four-game suspension for his hit on Jay Heaps. Nor did he kick an opponent who’d just kneed him in the back, as Ricardo Clark did to Carlos Ruiz and earned a nine-game vacation. Mullan, unlike former Dallas goalie Dario Sala, didn’t try to punch out a pair of opponents, for which he received a six-gamer. In each case, the intent of the offending player was clear, and so it is in the case of Mullan.

As another measurement of comparison, D.C. United forward Charlie Davies incurred a five-match suspension two years ago for elbowing an opponent while playing for Swedish club Hammarby.

Most of the time, a reckless and mistimed tackle will earn a player an extra game or two in addition to his banishment for the game in question. Inflicting serious injury can jack up the punishment, as can evidence of retaliation, and on both counts, Mullan has no real defense. Zakuani will be lucky to recover in time for the playoffs and seconds before his foul, Mullan had gestured to referee Silvio Petrescu upon being stripped of the ball by what he thought was a foul by Tyson Wahl. So indiscriminate was his anger that he crunched Zakuani instead.

While use of the elbow is often a clearer sign of intent than a purported attempt to win the ball, Mullan’s tackle obviously was meant to inflict damage on Zakuani. What often happens when a player loses the ball is he bounces up in anger and frustration, and swipes out the legs of an opponent or barges him off the ball. He’ll be cautioned or maybe sent off with a straight red.

This wasn’t an example of a player on a losing team lashing out in frustration in the final minutes, for which reporters and commentators are all too quick to mention as a mitigating factor. Nor was this a young, inexperienced player unaccustomed to mixing it up with pros.

In the third minute with the game barely underway, Mullan – a veteran of 11 MLS seasons and five championship teams -- crashed into an opponent’s legs. Amongst pros, deliberate and hard fouls are tolerated in certain circumstances, and during his career Mullan has delivered and received dozens of hard hits in the robust, aggressive manner that has shaped his career.

But the way he attacked Zakuani, and that is the correct verb in this case, broke the code. To make his point he could have simply run into Zakuani or grabbed him and been cautioned, rather than fly in with both feet. Mullan’s wild, over-reaction is impossible to justify.

At this early stage in the season a longer suspension won’t harm the Rapids as much as if the incident had occurred during the playoff push. That’s another reason to mete out a suspension of between six and eight games, to set an example of Commissioner Don Garber’s proclamation to cut down on callous, dangerous fouls, especially on the league’s most exciting and dynamic players.

  1. Joey Tremone
    commented on: April 26, 2011 at 7:24 a.m.
    Not that the punishment shouldn't be severe, but the logic in the last paragraph is troublesome. The rest of the Rapids had nothing to do with that tackle, and I don't think the effect on the team should consciously be factored in. And 'setting an example' is troublesome as well, because it means you're singling out one player as a 'message' to others without actually having put out that message beforehand--it's ex post facto.
  1. Curtis Freeman
    commented on: April 26, 2011 at 9:22 a.m.
    Sit out until the victim returns! That would stop some of the harsh violence.
  1. Giampaulo Pedroso
    commented on: April 26, 2011 at 9:28 a.m.
    Out until victim returns sounds fair to me. It will teach him how to compete with dignity next time!
  1. Rick Figueiredo
    commented on: April 26, 2011 at 9:45 a.m.
    The sad consequence of that tackle on Steve is that higher quality foreign players will look at that and be discouraged from playing in the MLS. I feel for Zaguani. That was a nasty tackle. In an area of the field that did not require it. Now Steve has to suffer through years of rehabilitation and hope to get back to where he was at. Sorry. I wish you well and the best in recovery.
  1. Mike Fredsell
    commented on: April 26, 2011 at 9:45 a.m.
    No place in the game for this. He should be out as long as zakawani is.
  1. Gary Zelazny
    commented on: April 26, 2011 at 9:51 a.m.
    In a league severely lacking in offensive creativity, not punushing this kind of play as well as the one against David Ferrierra in a proportionate way,8-10 games is a travesty. Defense is important but thuggish play should not be enabled.
  1. Barry Hackett
    commented on: April 26, 2011 at 9:52 a.m.
    I also agree that he should sit out until Steve returns. Moreover, his suspension should be without pay.
  1. Andrew Post
    commented on: April 26, 2011 at 9:53 a.m.
    Mullans is a typical US MLS player in that he confuses soccer with american football. This game is more about ball control and brilliant assing than slide tackles and his tackle was a retaliation for what he thought was a foul that went uncalled on him a play earlier. It was obvious his intent was to return the favor and to repay an "eye for an eye" Mullan in not a green rookie, he is a veteran and therefore has no excuse. He slid in with both feet from the side on a helpless player. Being a veteran, he is completely aware that certain chalenges will result in severe injuries for the recipient. I have watched Mullans for years and he seems to always be invovled in these types of plays. Never before has his challenges resulted n such a severe injury, but this time his reckless and unprofessional challenge did result in a horrific injury. Although i agree with a lengthy suspension, the reality is that he will only recieve between 3-5 games. If the MLS wants higher profile players to join this league, than there must be a shift from a physical game to a tactical game that rewards and protects high profile players.
  1. Chuck Stancil
    commented on: April 26, 2011 at 10:05 a.m.
    I was agreeing with everything you said in the article until your very last sentence which ended with "...especially on the league’s most exciting and dynamic players." WHY does the soccer media continue to suggest that the punishment should be more severe for fouls/injuries against the "stars"?! Would the injury be any less significant for Joe the Bench Warmer who comes into the game in the 85th minute? The punishment should match the severity of the foul without exception to the injured player's importance to the team or league!
  1. Nut Meg
    commented on: April 26, 2011 at 10:13 a.m.
    The tackle is ridiculous! Instead of showing skill & finesse some players have nothing but rahah HS mentality to show and that is because they lack skill & beauty to their game. These players get by with hardnose playing, the problem is anybody can do that. Show me skill, creativity and finesse which the league still lacks in our players. Mullen should be ashamed of himself.
  1. Derek Mccracken
    commented on: April 26, 2011 at 10:19 a.m.
    As I've commented on previous discussion sites . . . If a policeman witnessed someone purposely crashing into another person outside of the sports arena and causing gruesome, multiple bone breaks, that policeman would arrest the perpetrator on the spot. What Mullan did was a criminal act. From a legal perspective, he's just fortunate that he has the excuse that it occurred during a sporting event to protect/shield him. Otherwise, he'd be behind bars right now. In my eyes, Mullan is a gutless, spineless, cold-hearted bastard, but I won't tell you waht I really think about him. ;-)
  1. David Hardt
    commented on: April 26, 2011 at 10:23 a.m.
    I agree with most. Player sits out as long as the injured fouled player. What could be fairer? Out without pay. That might make a thug think twice before crashing in a dangerous manner.
  1. Jason Wachs
    commented on: April 26, 2011 at 11:13 a.m.
    Before his outrageous terrorist-like act, I think he was fouled. Let me say that I agree with the comments suggesting his suspension until Ferierra returns INCLUDING monetary penalties. No one has mentioned that the refs play an important part in just how vicious the game is allowed to be played ...and dare say, are encouraged to 'let it go' a bit to please the American football enthusiasts, and of course boost ratings. These kind of calls do nothing but encourage sadists like Mullan and resulting in players wearing body armour ...American football with a round ball. In any case, this was senseless criminal behavior and has no place in soccer.
  1. Jason Wachs
    commented on: April 26, 2011 at 11:18 a.m.
    my apologies - I mistakenly referred to Ferierra (also a thug) as the injured played instead of Zakuani
  1. Jeff Gingold
    commented on: April 26, 2011 at 12:01 p.m.
    The Seattle Times quoted Mullin as having said he's made the same tackle in the past and he'll do it again. Assuming the statement is correctly reported, it should be another aggravating factor and should earn Mullin a minimum of a 10 match ban. If it was realistic to keep him out until Zakuani returns to play, I would support that punishment instead.
  1. Tyler Dennis
    commented on: April 26, 2011 at 12:08 p.m.
    Mullin "I'd do it again" is an idiot. He potentially ruined a fellow players entire career and at a minimum the next 9-12 months. Not much "honoring the game" from Mullin. His action (the tackle) and his insistence that it was ok should get him ostracized by everyone that loves the game. You are a bum Mullan.
  1. Rob Roys
    commented on: April 26, 2011 at 12:46 p.m.
    I'll raise... 12 games. He should be out for 18-20.
  1. Shawn Spencer
    commented on: April 26, 2011 at 12:54 p.m.
    You can see for yourself how contrived and fake Mullan is in attempting to seem apologetic, defending his tackle and claiming that mowing down Zanuani and breaking his leg was a 'Freak, freak thing', the only freak thing was that absolutely immature and retaliatory tackle.
  1. Jeffrey l. Benson
    commented on: April 26, 2011 at 2:08 p.m.
    I played physical in high school, within the boundary rules of the game of soccer. Always play the ball, never the man. If you're going to initiate physical contact, so be the consequences of being at the receiving end, don't be a cry baby, go sit on the bench. Whether playing Offense, or Defense ALWAYS be able to "change gears" and be fast enough to avoid injury. Inquire of me by asking any player from Vestal, NY 1981 & Oneonta, NY 1981. Ask them who alone shut down their Offense. Number 9, Norwich, NY.
  1. Christopher Vreeland
    commented on: April 26, 2011 at 3:21 p.m.
    Having watched the video on youtube, remind me again why I would want to waste my time and money on a league that permits such a blatant attempt to break a leg. If the league does not see fit to hand out a season suspension for Mr. Mullan, I see no reason to take my kid to watch an MLS game. Well done, Mr. Mullan - you alone have convinced me that MLS will do well without my money.
  1. Kent James
    commented on: April 26, 2011 at 4:02 p.m.
    Mullan's actions are indefensible, but he is not the only guilty party. Mullan was fouled just prior (the Sounders player grabs his arm and holds him back, preventing him from making a play on the ball). Why would the referee not call such a flagrant, intentional, significant foul? It looked like the ref was in a good position to see it. Retaliation is never acceptable (especially against a guy who had nothing to do with it), so certainly throw the book at Mullan (and if he said he had no apologies and that he'd do it again, then I'd be in favor of banning him from the league), but more importantly, encourage the referees to call a tighter game so such physical play in not rewarded.
  1. Bill Anderson
    commented on: April 26, 2011 at 5:01 p.m.
    10-15 games and the largest fine in league history. FOREVER STAINED!
  1. Dave Schultz
    commented on: April 26, 2011 at 7 p.m.
    I was at the game with my family, 10 rows back and reviewed the tackle several times on a FSC replay. Irregardless of all the vile emotion about an extended suspension for Mullan, the truth is Mullan was aiming for the ball but badly misjudged the speed that Zakuani was approaching. If Mullan had arrived a fraction of a second earlier, he would have gotten the ball and the hard tackle would have never done the damage it has. Mullan is not a dirty player, he did react aggressively due to the blown call on him just seconds earlier. Sure he deserves some punishment but not the severity of what many are saying here.
  1. Tom Wilson
    commented on: April 26, 2011 at 7:24 p.m.
    The truth is he threw himself out of freakin control at the ball/player eliminating any opportunity to adjust for Zakuani's pace or manipulation of the ball. You are dead wrong in defending this type of play. Two feet, Too STUPID!
  1. Bill Airsman
    commented on: April 26, 2011 at 7:59 p.m.
    @Dave Schulz - I also was not far in the 7th row. I agree with part of what you say, I believe the punishment should be severe. Ridge Mahoney is DEAD WRONG about Mullan's intent, and I'd say as a supposed subjective journalist he was out of line.
  1. Chuck Redding
    commented on: April 26, 2011 at 8:08 p.m.
    Chuck Redding- Mullan lost complete mental composure. The game has no place for a player like this. He simply does not see the pitch until Zakuani see the pitch.
  1. I w Nowozeniuk
    commented on: April 26, 2011 at 8:13 p.m.
    The last paragraph is a typical whitewash argument...long season v playoffs...neither matters in order to mete out the punishment. A flagrant foul with intent to injure is to be punished no matter when it occurs during the season.
  1. Steven Erickson
    commented on: April 26, 2011 at 10:36 p.m.
    Mullen has dishonored the game and dishonored the fans with his proud and flagrant attack on Zakuani. Out for the season or even better out of the MLS, his ilk is not needed if the MLS is looking for growth and is wanting respect from the rest of the soccer world.
  1. Carl Walther
    commented on: April 27, 2011 at 10:01 a.m.
    Mullen was born a thug, plays like a thug, and will die a thug.
  1. Ernest Irelan
    commented on: April 27, 2011 at 10:47 a.m.
    I see a general agreement that Mullen should remain out of the game until Zakuani is able to return to normal play?..I have to concur with this. My reasoning for penalizing the team is that his mates can "lean" on him or any other team mate that has a tendency to play "dirty" an, thus, keep the characters who play in the manner of Mullen are discouraged. In a winter league son plays in , player getting a red card is fined, team does not play until fine is paid..this is high school league/adult just need to take this example to the higher level, be effective. The comment that soccer is a skill of passing, an tech. skill, being creative, what I love to see in a match, also, how coaches change tactics of their teams in order to win a game...very interesting to ie. is the RM v Barca last game in copa del the by, how many US referees did we see in last world cup?..We in US need to work on that also....I am thinking many of us are or have been coaches of youth at one time or another...our jobs are cut out for us....but, US soccer is getting a lot better as time goes on...we just need to nip things like this type of play in the bud before it gets too far out of hand...becomes routtine....
  1. Andrew Post
    commented on: April 28, 2011 at 9:42 a.m.
    Most of you may have not played the game and I'm sure most if not all of you have not refereed a soccer match. If you watch the play in its full, you will see Mullan's being fouled ( i agree, there should have been a call) then his appeal to the ref for the no call. The next thing that happens is his head whips around to find the ball and the play. When he locates the ball, he darts strait towards the play with clear intent which can be seen in his body language. This is evident in that he throws his body in a way that initiates contact instead of just trying to wint he ball. Not to mention he put his own teamate at risk of recieving injury as well. HAD THIS BEEN MULLAN'S FIRST INCIDENT WHERE HIS TACKLE WAS DANGEROUS, THEN PERHAPS THE RED CARD AND A MINOR SUSPENSION WOULD BE IN ORDER. BUT MULLAN HAS A HISTSORY OF THESE TYPES OF PLAYS. Watch the clip again. You will see first, a retaliation due to the play just before, and a tackle that was ment to foul in how he dove into the tackle. Mullan new he would recieve a foul, but emotion and temper got the best of him. A severe punishment has to happen. This is a perfect time for the MLS to set an example of this type of play. THE MLS NEEDS QUALITY PLAYERS NOT THUGS WHO CAN'T CONTROL THEIR TEMPER. If you don't think Mullan intended to fould Zakuani then you have never played the sport at a high level.

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