It’s been nearly a year since the Sounders FC faced the Colorado Rapids at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park and Brian Mullan’s name became one of the best known among Sounders fans.
On April 22, 2011, Mullan’s tackle in the third minute broke Steve Zakuani’s leg. Zakuani is nearing a return, but Mullan is scheduled to make his first appearance at CenturyLink Field since the incident.
And while it has been a topic of conversation amongst Sounders fans since Tuesday, within the Seattle locker room the focus has remained on getting three points against a Western Conference foe.
“We haven’t addressed it yet, as a team, but I expect our guys to be professional about it. I think our fans will be as well,” Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid said. “We just have to go on and play a normal game and not make that the focal point of the game for us.”
Zakuani himself has expressed repeatedly a forgiving attitude and a desire to put the incident behind him as he nears a return to the field for the Sounders.
“I’ve not thought about it at all. When he comes in, it’s just like any team coming in,” he said, offering a word of encouragement to the fans. “The fans will do what they need to do, but for me, my advice is to let it go and support the team. Use that energy to support the team. The guys will need it.”
The Rapids made a mid-July trip to Seattle last year, but Mullan, fresh off his ten-game suspension, did not make the trip. He has started all five matches for Colorado this season, helping them to a 3-2-0 record. He is likely to continue to start in Saturday’s match at CenturyLink Field and isn’t likely to get a warm reception from the over 38,000 expected in attendance.
Owner and general manager Adrian Hanauer isn’t concerned about the fan reaction, though.
“I’m not worried. Our fans are passionate, but I think sane,” he said. “Personally and I think most people in the organization are past it. For me it’s just another game and another chance to get three points. I’m more concerned with Steve Zakuani and getting him back on the field. And more worried about getting three points on Saturday.”
Zakuani played in a training game against Gonzaga University on April 1 and is feeling closer to a return to regular playing time with the Sounders. On Thursday, he participated in full training with the team and finished the day with a series of shooting drills, looking very much the part of the up-and-coming star that he was before the injury in the short bursts of action.
“I feel good. I’m getting stronger and fitter every day,” he said. “Obviously I’m not ready to play a game, but as close as I’ve been since the injury.”
Zakuani plans to play in more reserve games and will return to first team as soon as he feels ready. After the match on Saturday, Seattle will play MLS Reserve League road matches against the LA Galaxy next Monday, then Chivas USA on April 23. In between, there will also be a training game on April 21 at Starfire against the University of Washington.