Leading up to the Sounders FC’s match on Saturday afternoon against the Colorado Rapids, much of the media attention was paid to Rapids midfielder Brian Mullan’s first match at CenturyLink Field since his tackle broke the leg of Steve Zakuani on April 22, 2011.
During the match, most of the 38,360 fans on hand booed Mullan every time he touched the ball. Otherwise, there was no indication of ill-will on either club, as Mullan was fouled just once and the only foul he committed resulted in a yellow card.
Mullan said after the match that, while he is glad to have his first match in front of Seattle’s fans behind him, the incident that put Zakuani out of action for nearly a year will never leave his memory, even as Zakuani nears his return.
“Do not get me wrong. I’m pleased, I want him back on the field more than anybody. He’s a great player and for that to happen to him on my watch is something that I will never live down,” said the 12th year midfielder.
Although it has been a topic of conversation among the media, Mullan’s first appearance in Seattle was far from the minds of either team as they prepared for the match.
“Other than the crowd, hearing them boo him every time he touched the ball, I don’t think anybody else thought twice about it,” said Sounders defender Zach Scott, who scored the game-winning goal in the 63rd minute. “It’s not like we were out there looking for some way to retaliate. We wanted to honor Steve with a win and that’s what we did.”
Added Colorado coach Oscar Pareja, “To be honest with you we didn’t talk with Brian at any point in the week about that. We were worried about the game.”
Mullan said that he has changed his style of play in the time since he served a ten-game suspension for that fateful foul. In the match on Saturday night, for example, he never went to the ground in an effort to recover the ball.
For as well as the players on the field handled themselves in the circumstances, the fans in the stands were commended as well, giving no reaction from the crowd outside of jeering each time Mullan touched the ball.
“To be honest I thought the fans were great and they did exactly what we expected,” said Colorado defender and captain Drew Moor. “We did not expect them to be nice to him but I had forgotten about it for the most part. You heard the boos whenever he touched the ball. That is part of the game sometimes and I thought the fans were great.”
Mullan agreed, “There are a lot of great fans in this city as well as a lot of nerves leading up to the game. I applaud the fans, they did a good job and conducted themselves professionally and consistently with their reputation.”
Like Mullan, the Sounders are glad to put the game behind them.
“It’s emotional. Steve was a big part of our team and losing him for a year is huge,” Scott said. “It’s not something we are going to forget, but it’s definitely something we’re going to move on from.”
And while this chapter in the saga is now finished, the situation won’t ever be erased from Mullan’s memory – the damage never undone.
“It never can,” he solemnly said.