Mullan Gets Longest Suspension in MLS History for Tackle on Zakuani

Major League Soccer added nine games to Brian Mullan’s mandatory one-game suspension for his straight-red tackle that broke the fibula and tibia of Sounders winger Steve Zakuani last weekend.

The announcement came today, a day later than is usual, as the Disciplinary Committee took extra time to come to their decision, which tops the 2007 suspension (nine games total) of former Houston midfielder Ricardo Clark for doing this to Carlos Ruiz during a Dynamo–FC Dallas game:

(Not to defend what Clark did in the slightest, but Ruiz, a flagrant diver throughout his career, even had to embellish that one. He reacted as though he’d been kicked in the head, which, thankfully, he hadn’t been. But he couldn’t resist making a meal out of what was already clearly going to be a straight red for Clark. Funny. Anyway, back to Mullan.)

There’s plenty of video of Mullan’s tackle, but we saw it on TV when it happened, and that was enough for us, so we’re not going to post it here. Click this if you haven’t already seen it, and you’re not overly squeamish.

Of course the fur began to fly among the MLS faithful the millisecond the decision was announced:

It’s way too harsh!

It sounds about right.

The suspension should be based on the foul, not the fact that Zakuani got injured, which can be chalked up to bad luck [his leg was planted] more than the severity of the tackle….

And so on.

As for that last argument, we appreciated the following point from MLS commenter Randy Meeker:

“If you run a red light, you get a ticket. If you run a red light and hit a pedestrian, you go to jail. Same concept.”

That has a ring of logic to it.

It also stands to reason that because of this lengthy suspension, the next time an MLS player gets a rush of blood to the head over a non-call against him (as Mullan did right before the Zakuani incident), he might think twice before launching his body, full force, into the lower legs of the next opponent he sees with the ball.

Thoughts on the suspension? Too long? Not long enough? Will or won’t have an effect on future recklessness in the league? Let us know in the comments.

Real Salt Lake Falls Short: 15-Month CCL Effort Ends in Massive Disappointment

Real Salt Lake’s 37-match home unbeaten streak came to an end at the worst possible time.

Last night, the reigning Mexican champions Monterrey came in to Rio Tinto for the second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League final and did what no team has been able to do there for two years: beat the hosts.

Humberto Suazo‘s 46th-minute goal stood up for a 1–0 win that gave Monterrey the CCL crown 3–2 on aggregate and denied the 2009 MLS champions what would have been a historic berth in the FIFA Club World Cup.

It also tripped up Real Salt Lake at the very last step of a  journey they began soon after winning that ’09 MLS crown, when they made it a club priority to win the CONCACAF Champions League and advance to the CWC.

Speaking to The Salt Lake Tribune, coach Jason Kreis called it “a major, major disappointment,” and “a huge, huge opportunity gone missing.”

Highlights here:

While RSL certainly missed captain Kyle Beckerman, who was suspended due to yellow card accumulation, they can’t pin the loss solely on his absence.

The MLS side never found its rhythm, never was able to impose its ‘RSL’ possession game on the visitors. And while much credit should go to those visitors for disrupting the hosts, Salt Lake was a little flat, and lacked the poise needed for the occasion.

Second half substitute Arturo Alvarez—who’d helped RSL secure the draw in the first leg with some great set-up work on Javier Morales’s equalizer—was particularly poor last night. He gave the ball away on three consecutive occasions while under minimal pressure in the offensive third.

Right back Tony Beltran, also a second-half sub, had similar troubles with unforced errors. He made a play around the 72nd minute that typified RSL’s lack of poise and concentration on the night.

With the ball at his feet, about 15-20 yards of space in front of him, and passing options to either side, Beltran humped the ball aimlessly forward, where it was picked up by a Monterrey midfielder.

Panic ball? Concentration lapse? Hard to say, but it was a terrible turnover in a game too full of them, especially for RSL.

Both Suazo’s goal and the buildup that created it were excellent, but all in all, the game was a scrappy, cagey affair, with plenty of mistakes and without a lot of fluidity.

Salt Lake did generate some chances to equalize, but couldn’t convert any of them, and will now have to bounce back for MLS play after seeing nearly two years of hard work and effort evaporate in 90 minutes.

Clint Dempsey is Now Fulham’s All-Time Leading Scorer in the Prem

He tied Brian McBride and Steed Malbranque (at 32 goals) with this piece of brilliance during Fulham’s 3–0 win over Bolton today:

Then took the lead with this finish of Eidur Gudjohnsen’s flick:

(Enjoy the clips before the EPL Big Brother claims them.)

The Man from Nacogdoches now has 12 goals in the Premier League this season—the record, and counting, for Americans over there—and 13 in all competitions.

Real Salt Lake Poised to Plant MLS Flag on CONCACAF Region

Here is Fox Soccer’s Christian Miles on tonight’s clash between Real Salt Lake and Monterrey in the second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League final (10:00 EST, Fox Soccer Channel):

This game is massive for MLS. It’s probably the biggest game that the league has ever seen, and winning this would literally put the league on the map. … Getting to the Club World Cup [which tonight’s winner will do] is the next step that MLS has to take to gain international legitimacy. People overseas don’t think that Americans take this sport seriously, and as a result don’t always take MLS as seriously as they should. Getting to Japan would be a massive step towards changing that.”

And here’s RSL general manager and former MLS keeper Garth Lagerway [via Daily Breeze]:

If you’re going to talk about the long-term future of the league, you need people who are fans of soccer in the United States to pay attention to our league. … A lot of those people are going to deny, deny, deny, and say, ‘I’d rather get up on Saturday morning to watch the EPL, and American soccer sucks.’ I think we’re going to win over a whole bunch of fans who simply can’t ignore us if we’re able to win and achieve consistent success. … I think we have an event [here] [of the scale] to put the world on notice that American soccer has taken another step forward.

For a team that’s only been in existence since 2005—and that operates under MLS’s strict salary cap—winning the 24-team CCL (as opposed to the eight-team CONCACAF Champions Cup, which DC and LA won, in 1998 and 2000, respectively) would be a significant accomplishment.

Monterrey, by contrast, was founded in 1945 and has a salary budget estimated at three to five times larger than Real Salt Lake’s $2.675 million.

Just getting to this point has been a feat of resource- and team-management. As Soccer America’s RidgeMahoney put it:

As a team, RSL’s advancement to the brink of a regional club title is a study in smart tactics and intelligent deployment of talented personnel. As an organization, its management of limited resources to succeed against richer clubs may be an even greater accomplishment, and a challenge to its league foes.”

On to the game:

With two away goals in the first leg (a 2-2 draw), Real Salt Lake is in the driver’s seat. A 0-0 or 1-1 draw tonight would deliver the CCL title to the Claret-and-Cobalt.

Some other encouraging factors for the hosts:

• RSL has an impressive 37-match unbeaten streak at Rio Tinto Stadium.

• As of this writing, the temperature in Salt Lake (or nearby Sandy, home of Rio Tinto Stadium) is 36 degrees—almost 60 degrees cooler than it was in Monterrey last Wednesday. It’s expected to rise before kickoff, but the weather could put Monterrey out of their comfort zone. They’ll also have to contend with the altitude in Sandy (4,500 ft).

• Monterrey coach Víctor Manuel Vucetich provided some bulletin-board material for RSL, saying the following after the first leg [via MLSSoccer]:

It was a real good game by us. We did enough to win the game. We gave the effort. We made the game. We also made a few errors. But nonetheless, it makes me feel good to know how Salt Lake plays…. They played the game they wanted. They dirtied the game a lot. But that’s normal. We know exactly what their movements are and what their characteristics are. With the way we played today, we’re confident of getting a good result over there [at Rio Tinto].”

On the downside for RSL, captain and holding midfielder Kyle Beckerman will sit this one out due to yellow-card accumulation (following a questionable booking in the first leg).

Look for Ned Grabavoy or Will Johnson to take Beckerman’s place in the middle (or, possibly, the rugged Jean Alexandre).

The team has coped without Beckerman in the past—and coped well, going 7-0-3—but it’s still a big blow.

(Monterrey have roster issues of their own—striker Aldo De Nigris and captain Luis Perez are both out injured. De Nigris is also suspended due to card accumulation, so he couldn’t play even if he were healthy. … But Chilean superstar Humberto Suazo and Argentine international Neri Cardozo will be present and accounted for.)

Lastly, we’d submit that given all the hype surrounding their accomplishments thus far, the great result in Monterrey, and the return to the comforts of their home stadium, Real Salt Lake have to guard against complacency.

They haven’t won anything yet.

They still have to do the business tonight, against a dangerous team that surely does not want to be a footnote in MLS history.

MLS Needs this Like it Needs the Return of Lothar Matthäus

The sight of one of its most exciting, skillful young players, Seattle winger Steve Zakuani, going off on a stretcher with two broken bones in his lower leg had to be dispiriting for MLS honchos on Friday.

When 2010 league MVP David Ferreira of FC Dallas suffered a similar fate the next day, it should have sent shivers up their spines.

There’s been a lot of talk this season about how “physical” MLS is, and that’s all well and good—as long as there are players like Zakuani and Ferreira around to provide a balancing dose of finesse and skill.

Now, there are two fewer of those types of players, and the league will suffer for it.

Read our column about the rugged, eventful Week 6 of MLS, right here.

Thierry Henry, 2000 vs. Juan Agudelo, 2011

We compared Juan Agudelo‘s magnificent goal vs DC United last night to a legendary strike by former New York Cosmos player Roberto Cabanas. But it’s real forerunner is a goal by Agudelo’s New York teammate Thierry Henry.

With a tip o the hat to the MLS website, let’s compare and contrast:

Henry, Arsenal vs Manchester United, 2000:

Agudelo, New  York vs DC, 2011:

We could watch these all day.

New York 4, D.C. 0: Henry Brace, Agudelo Golazo Key Red Bull Rout

Thierry Henry bagged two goals and Juan Agudelo produced a sensational Goal of the Year candidate in stoppage time to lead the Red Bulls to a 4-0 shutout of D.C. United at RFK Stadium last night.

Both teams were coming off convincing 3-0 wins in their last outings, but it was New York that got going early when Jan Gunnar Solli took a nice layoff from Dane Richards and charged up the wing to serve a perfect ball for Henry to bury with an eight-yard header.

Early goal in the bank, the Red Bulls never looked back, cruising to the lopsided victory.

It was an impressive road win, and arguably a statement game to the rest of the league, as the Red Bulls’ talented roster gave a glimpse of its capabilities (and Dwayne De Rosario hasn’t even gotten it going yet).

But as Henry said in his postgame interview (see below), the scoreline was somewhat unfair to the Black-and-Red, which hit the post twice and forced two excellent saves from New York keeper Bouna Coundoul.

Highlights here (and you may want to watch Agudelo’s Roberto Cabanas-esque strike several times):

And here’s Henry’s postgame interview with ESPN:

Save the Date: May 3rd, Backpost Champions League Viewing Party

Hey, you there—slacking off work to read a soccer blog: Did you know a recent study found that surfing the Internet at work actually boosts productivity? Well, here’s a proposal guaranteed to curtail your workplace contributions on the afternoon of Tues., May 3, 2011.

If you live in the New York City area (or happen to be visiting), come on down to lower Manhattan that day for the first ever Backpost Champions League Viewing Party.

On the schedule: the fourth and possibly best meeting in four weeks between mighty Real Madrid and Barcelona. It’s the second leg of their Champions League semifinal and will send one of them to the final at Wembley on May 28.

Where: The Full Shilling, 160 Pearl St (btw Wall and Pine)

When: 2:45 PM.

We will have a table in the back in front of the big screen, and your first drink is on Backpost.

So come out and watch what should be a great game with a group of like-minded goons. You may get to hear Prison Mike explain how Real Madrid is an underdog worthy of your sympathy (after he scares you straight), or listen to the Ref Baiter recount the best dives of his career. It’s sure to be a good time.

Watch this space for confirmed details/reminders, and thanks for your support of BP.

CCL Final, First Leg: Real Salt Lake Beats Monterrey 2-2

Of course that’s a bit of humor in the headline up there, but this result is just about as good as a win: Real Salt Lake went down to Monterrey and scored not one but two away goals, the second of which came in the 89th minute through a moment of brilliance from Javier Morales.

The Argentine playmaker’s strike put the teams on level terms in the total-goals series as they head to the second leg at Rio Tinto Stadium, where Real Salt Lake is unbeaten in its last 37 games.

Highlights:

The visitors started out brightly, possessing the ball and taking it to Monterrey for the first 15 minutes. The first goal was somewhat against the run of play, and Nat Borchers‘ excellent equalizer was well deserved for RSL.

In the second half, either because of fatigue—it was 90+ degrees—or a tactical decision to sit back and play for a draw (or both), Real Salt Lake were on their heels for most of the time. They absorbed a lot of pressure and had trouble maintaining any kind of possession. The penalty call may have been iffy, but a goal for the Mexican champions at that point was not surprising or against the grain of the game.

But Real Salt Lake hung in, absorbed more pressure, and remained standing, with a puncher’s chance of scoring a draw in the closing minutes. That’s when Morales, picking up a ball from late sub Arturo Alvarez, worked his magic.

The only downside of the incredible night was captain Kyle Beckerman getting an undeserved yellow that will keep him out of the second leg.

Here’s Morales in Sports Illustrated this week, talking about RSL’s style:

“We have a style that I would call mixed between American and Latin, a new style. We work very hard in the American way, and we have a Latin game where we try to take care of the ball.”

He hit the nail on the head, and that style is embodied in the central midfield pairing of the skillful Latin Morales and the athletic, hard-working American Beckerman.

They’ll miss their captain next week, for sure, but with their depth and the fantastic support at Rio Tinto, Real Salt Lake is still very much in the driver’s seat, ready to make history.