July 8, 2012
By Charles Cuttone
Zakuani and Mullan give us one of those moments
On Saturday night, Steve Zakuani and Brian Mullan gave us one of those moment s sports are supposed to be about.
Not just winning and losing and great plays, but a memorable moment born out of forgiveness and sportsmanship.
Zakuani, the Seattle Sounders forward, got into Saturday’s game against Colorado in the 86th minute. It was the first time he had set foot on a field since April 22, 2011, against the same Rapids.
On that night more than a year ago, a tackle by Mullan broke the young speedster’s leg. Zakuani was out for more than a year recovering and Mullan got a long suspension from Major League Soccer, which at the time was undergoing a rash of hard tackles and severe injuries.
When Zakuani entered Saturday’s game for Mario Rosales, the crowd of 39,060, which has been holding a vigil for this return, hanging his # 11 around the football stadium, erupted.
"For sure the eruption of the crowd was as loud as I think I've ever heard here,” said Sounders coach Sigi Schmid. “It was fantastic. I was still caught in the emotion of the game, so I didn't allow myself to think a lot about Steve getting back out there and the period of time and maybe the appropriateness of coming back on the field against Colorado.”
With the Sounders holding onto a 2-1 lead late in the game, Zakuani got few touches on the ball. It wasn’t his play, or even his return, that made Saturday a special moment, one that should be recorded in MLS’s history books somehow. It was what happened after.
After the final whistle blew, Zakuani sought out Mullan. The former Akron star tugged on his own jersey, perhaps the official international hand signal for exchange. Zakuani gave Mullan his rave green shirt, and Mullan gave his opponent his white Rapids shirt. The two shook hands and embraced.
“I went up to a bunch of their players and I went up to him as well. I think that it is good, ” said Zakuani. “I have said from day one that I do not have any issues with him. I forgave him, a long time ago, but I think it is good for the public to see, for closure. Now I think that he can go on with his career and I can start to do the same. I have a lot of work to do to play consistently well. He took my shirt home and I am taking his shirt home and I think that chapter is closed now.”
What happened on April 22, 2011 was a sad memory. What happened on July 7, 2012 was a poignant one.