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I've been a fan of Real Salt Lake since it joined MLS and took to the field in 2005, and I've been a fan of MLS since it began in 1996. Lately however I've started to worry about the path MLS is taking and the poor decisions they are making that in my mind threaten the growth of soccer as a whole in the US. (see "Columbus conspiracy" section) Soccer in America will grow only when we have a vibrant and diverse minor league system, something that MLS seems to be smothering at the moment. (see "American soccer wars" section) Let's keep our eyes on the situation and hope for the best, a future where grass-roots soccer and the minor leagues can not only exist but flourish, as well as where the contributions and history of the league's early clubs are appreciated and preserved.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Mullan's tackle puts Garber on the spot



(by Steve Davis si.com 4-25-11)

The Brian Mullan-Steve Zakuani matter:

This is a big moment for MLS commissioner Don Garber. Later this week MLS' disciplinary committee will render judgment on Mullan, the Colorado midfielder whose terrible tackle has ended Zakuani's season of high promise.

Mullan was immediately red carded for the 3rd-minute tackle that snapped the Seattle winger's leg Friday outside Denver. Now all eyes are on Garber.

The backdrop for all this is the serious, ongoing and long overdue discussion about refereeing. Garber has publicly stated his frustration at the lack of organizational control over referee development and the volatile way league matches are officiated. (U.S. Soccer oversees and assigns referees, not MLS.) And Garber has vowed to increase protection for the highly skilled, offensive players.

Well, the Mullan decision (and the precedent) is something that Garber controls.

Before the commissioner sits a fiercely physical player who has done grievous harm to a highly technical player, there are several points to consider. Is Mullan a dirty player, one prone to cheap shots? No. But his aggressiveness is notoriously weapons grade. He's the very embodiment of MLS' highly deserved reputation as a "physical league," which is really just a candy-coated euphemism for an overly combative league where pugnacity frequently rules over technical ability, where hustle and brute force often trump the beautiful game.

That's Mullan. He has always played on the edge, consistently straddling the line between the legal and illegal. Players around MLS respect Mullan's work rate and his do-or-die mentality. But they'll also tell you privately that he can cross the line into reckless behavior and that he's fortunate something like this hasn't happened before.

Mullan works ferociously; that part is commendable. But he also plays with a chip on his shoulder, always quick to scream and complain when the whistles don't go his way. And he has always been prone to emotional overreaction when he doesn't get the calls -- which is exactly what happened Friday.

Highly combative, aggressive players have a duty to police themselves and their emotions. Short of that, Garber must do it for them. Because it's too late for Zakuani, but not for the next tibia and fibula that may be in jeopardy.

Playing the game with that signature competitiveness has helped Mullan earn five MLS Cup rings. But there will eventually be a price for habitually pushing the limits, and here we are.

Finally, Mullan did himself no favors with his tone-deaf reaction, which included this unfortunate groan-inducer: "It's a tackle that I've done hundreds of times and would probably do again."

No, Brian, it's not a tackle you've done 100 times. Because this one shattered someone's leg. That makes it a very different tackle -- as he is sure to discover this week.

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Comment by The Cup

Hopefully we won't see this chump bastard for the rest of the season.

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