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Cool heads urged as Sounders fans prepare for payback for 'vicious hit'

Ed Clemente
Sounders midfielder Steve Zakuani writhes in pain after a tackle by Rapids midfielder Brian Mullan in April 2011 in Denver. Zakuani is still recovering from the injury as Mullan and the Rapids make their first trip to Seattle since the hit on Saturday.

It's payback time. That's what a lot of Seattle Sounders FC fans are saying about Saturday's matchup with the Colorado Rapids at CenturyLink Field.

It's the first time they will be able to voice their opposition to Rapids midfielder Brian Mullan's vicious tackle last season of one of the Sounders' best players, Steve Zakuani. The hit left Zakuani with a broken leg as well as muscle and nerve damage from which he's still recovering.

KPLU sports commentator Art Thiel says Sounders fans have a right to be angry and a right to voice that anger on Saturday - but he warns against going too far.

First, let's review

Art says there's no question the hit was vicious and stupid. Especially coming from an 11-year veteran like Mullan.

"It was completely uncalled for because Mullan had lost possession of the ball and he had this reckless impulse to get after Zakuani. It broke the fibula and tibia in his right leg. Not only that but it damaged nerves, it damaged muscle and it caused him to stay in the hospital for five days in Denver before they could get him back to Seattle."

In hot water

Major League Soccer suspended Mullan for 10 games - a suspension that tied the league record for length. Art says it was the right move.

"(The hit) enraged the Sounder fan base and quite properly so because it wasn't two guys just accidentally colliding; he deliberately went after him. And then he compounded matters in the post-game. Not realizing how injured Zakuani was, he said 'It's a tackle I've made a hundred times and I'd make it again.' So, on top of the injury there was the insult of extreme insensitivity. This is the first time that Mullan has been to Seattle since that injury and Sounders fans are waiting for him."

In the year since the hit, Mullan has served his suspension. And he says he's sorry it happened. He told Sports Illustrated that the tackle haunts him. In an interview in February of this year Mullan said "I still have a hard time with it. It wakes me up in the middle of the night, and I can't get back to sleep thinking about it."

Mullan said this week he will not address the issue before the game, but will speak to the media afterwards.

Long road to recovery

Zakuani has undergone several surgeries. But he still remains sidelined. He isn't expected to play again until next month at the earliest.  Art says fans have a right to be angry at Mullan and want revenge.

"This guy made a dumb move and a dangerous move. He took a bite out of Zakuani's career. The Sounders were hurt by it - in addition to Zakuani suffering all the pain of rehab and multiple surgeries."

Let it out, then move on

Art says both men are trying to move on. And fans should too.

"I'm advocating sportsmanship. If you want to boo, boo. Don't be throwing things. Don't waste 90 minutes of a good soccer match heckling one guy. Zakuani has talked to Mullan. Zakuani has asked the crowd to forgive him. And the two of them are trying to get beyond it. So, I don't say cheer the guy but get your booing done and move on to enjoying the game."

You can read more about Art Thiel's thoughts on this issue at Sportspress Northwest.



Kirsten Kendrick has been hosting Morning Edition on KNKX/KPLU since 2006. She has worked in news radio for more than 30 years. Kirsten is also a sports lover. She handles most sports coverage at the station, including helping produce a two-part series on the 50th anniversary of Title IX and the ongoing series "Going Deep."
Art Thiel is a co-founder and writer for the rising sports website Sportspress Northwest. In 2003 Thiel wrote the definitive book about the Seattle Mariners, “Out of Left Field,” which became a regional bestseller. In 2009, along with Steve Rudman and KJR 950 afternoon host Mike Gastineau, Thiel authored “The Great Book of Seattle Sports Lists,” a cross between and Mad Magazine that has become mandatory reading for any sports fan who has an indoor bathroom.