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Colorado Rapids Midfielder Brian Mullan Seeks Counseling After Injuring Seattle Sounders Winger Steve Zakuani

Colorado Rapids midfielder Brian Mullan has reportedly sought out counseling in the wake of the incident that left Steve Zakuani with a broken leg. With the severity of his punishment set to be revealed today, the question becomes; when is it time to move on?

DENVER CO -  Brian Mullan #11 with the Colorado Rapids greets fans after the they defeated the Columbus Crew 1-0 at Dick's Sporting Goods Park in the first leg of MLS playoffs in Denver Colorado. (Photo by Nathan W. Armes/Getty Images)
DENVER CO - Brian Mullan #11 with the Colorado Rapids greets fans after the they defeated the Columbus Crew 1-0 at Dick's Sporting Goods Park in the first leg of MLS playoffs in Denver Colorado. (Photo by Nathan W. Armes/Getty Images)
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With an announcement from MLS regarding the suspension of Brian Mullan expected some time Wednesday morning, it has emerged that the Colorado Rapids midfielder is struggling in the aftermath of the incident that left Seattle Sounders winger Steve Zakuani with two fractured bones in his right leg. From this article at the Denver Post:

"There's no doubt it was a sending-off (infraction)," Rapids coach Gary Smith said after practice today. "There's no doubt he should get a suspension, and if the panel want to add an extra couple of games, I think that's acceptable. What I'm getting frustrated about are a multitude of people that are calling for Brian to be drawn and quartered."

Another article, posted at MLSSoccer.com, has further quotes from Smith:

"The guy is distraught about it," Smith said at training Tuesday, adding that Mullan is seeking counseling in the aftermath of the incident. "He is visibly shaken and there is no way he can train. I said to him to take some time off to try and come to terms with it, and I don’t think he is going to be ready for quite a while."

There has been additional speculation that Mullan's time away from the game might exceed whatever penalty is imposed by the league. One of the more frustrating aspects of this situation to many Sounders fans had been Mullan's seeming lack of remorse for the tackle and the injury that it caused. His immediate reaction to the incident coupled with his by now infamous statement on the offense, calling it "a tackle that I've done hundreds of times and would probably do again" did little to garner him much support amongst the general population of MLS fans. And at the time, the negative reaction was understandable. It suggested a certain tone-deafness, an endorsement of the view that Mullan's actions were those of a thuggish brute whose career was only made possible by an overly physical playing style all but endorsed by the league. What's worse, Mullan seemed completely unwilling to take responsibility for his actions.

Given a few days, some positive news about Zakuani's recovery and another viewing of Mullan's post-game interview, the words seem different. Mullan seems on the verge of tears for the entirety of the interview. The "hundreds of times" bit seems less a dismissal of his role in Zakuani's injury than a failed attempt to make the point that he had no intent to cause Zakuani harm. Mullan is known for being a shy person, exceedingly uncomfortable on camera and less than enamored with the media spotlight. Stepping back from the situation, it's somewhat understandable that he would have been less than eloquent under the circumstances. It's not at all difficult for me to believe that Brian Mullan is genuinely distraught over the results of his actions; it's how any halfway decent human being would be expected to react in such a situation.

Because despite what some people seem to think, what it would be so easy to think, Brian Mullan is almost certainly not a monster. Make no mistake, his actions were reprehensible. Such play has no place in this or any league and he must be punished accordingly. But this desire to demonize, to paint Mullan in the worst possible light, isn't at all productive. If the worst of the allegations against Mullan are to be believed-that Mulllan had every intent to maim Zakuani and that the timing of this information's release is designed only to garner sympathy in the hope of his punishment being reduced-then it would seem to imply that Mullan is legitimately a sociopath. And while that belief might be convenient in terms of fitting into the narrative, it's not especially reasonable.

It is not my intention to excuse Mullan's action, or even to garner sympathy for his current mental state. He did what he did with at least some knowledge of the potential consequences of his actions. Guilt and remorse are powerful emotions, and they serve a legitimate purpose; Mullan almost certainly feels terrible because he did a terrible thing. Shouldn't that be enough? At some point on Wednesday, we'll discover what his punishment will be. I am hoping-and expecting-a stiff penalty, somewhere in the neighborhood of 6-8 games with a hefty fine on top. And once that's done, I'll be happy to put this whole incident in the past. I want Brian Mullan to be punished in a manner that is consistent with his actions, and I would hope that he reflects on said actions and the pain that he's caused and that in the end he becomes a better person for it. That's the rational, objective part of me. The Sounders fan in me will never like him as a player and will boo him lustily whenever given the opportunity. But I don't wish for the man's life to be ruined as a result of this.

That there is a culture of almost violent retribution surrounding this entire incident leaves an incredibly bad taste in my mouth. Brian Mullan will be punished, his reputation will be forever tainted and it's entirely possible that his career will be cut short as a result. I hope that, if his mental state is serious, he gets the help he needs to lead a happy life, but aside from that I do not weep for Brian Mullan. But I also do not wish any further suffering upon him than is necessary for justice to be served and for his guilt to be erased. And given what we know about what kind of a person Steve Zakuani is, I have a feeling he wouldn't either.