It's only April, but we've got an early lead in the MLS-related "You gotta be ****ing KIDDING me" story of the year: An exclusive interview with the guy who brought Dallas' season to a standstill, Jonathan Leathers called
"Fullbacks tackle - and here's how to do it."
They've even got a picture of this past weekend's game.
I assume The Province managed to grab Leathers, who after all is right now one of the most talented players in Canada, and got him to drop a few gems such as
Well, when you get gold like this? Broken legs in the previous game or no - you can't NOT run it.
At least the Province ran something on Leathers - like most/many/some/several/none of you, I've been waiting to see how heavy a hammer would fall on Leathers and Brian Mullan for their amateur podiatry. It's been several days now, and the only thing we've heard is that Mullan is distraught and has been held out of practice.
I can understand this, I really can. He's got to be shaken up by this - it's not like Mullan has tried that sort of tackle hundreds of times.
Mullan gave the above quote after the game to John Meyer of the Denver Post, but unwisely expanded on that topic later, saying:
Brian Mullan, diplomat. Between "hundreds of times" and "I'd probably do it again," it's perhaps unsurprising that the actual apologies were lost in translation.
Because of this, the Rapids issued another, "formal" apology from Mullan today. Also on the PR front, Gary Smith compared the Mullan tackle as being less reprehensible than Ricardo Clark's considerably less damaging stamp on Carlos Ruiz' shoulder one or two Ruiz MLS stints ago. Smith also let it be known that Mullan was receiving counseling for the incident.
There's no word on whether Tyrone Marshall is involved in that counseling. Hilariously, Marshall was quoted in the Gary Smith article. Marshall was Zakuani's teammate, but he also cracked Kenny Cooper's leg back in 2007. Smith also threw former Rapid Ugo Ihemelu under the bus for this challenge on Macoumba Kandji in MLS Cup, but forgot about Ihemelu breaking Domenic Mediate's leg back in 2006.
Or Mullan could ask advice from Rapids Gallery of Honor member Marcelo Balboa, who broke Dan Calichman's leg back in 1998.
But blaming the Rapids for fomenting a culture of violence is the easy, cheap way out. (Which is why I spent several paragraphs doing it.) The ugly truth is that Mullan is not only right, but understating. He has made that tackle hundreds of times. So have scores of other players. What Mullan hoped would happen is that he would have gotten to the ball first and clattered Zakuani. Thus, Steve would allegedly have been Sent a Message.
And while Gary Smith is positively Mullanesque in his phrasing, timing and diplomacy, he too is depressingly accurate. Yes, he's trying to keep one of his key players from being suspended for too inconveniently long.
But there but for the wrath of God go seventeen other coaches. As thugs and enforcers go, Babyface Mullan is dull normal. Every team in the league has at least one player like this, frequently two. They never make All-Star Teams, Best XIs, and they don't win Player of the Week - but they pop up on national teams and in championship games reliably, almost invariably.
And We, the Supporters, in Whose Hearts burns the Love for the Beautiful Game - we hate this sort of player with a righteous fury, except for the guy who plays for our team. That guy is merely hard-nosed on the field, a locker room leader who does what it takes to help the team win, and who's a really nice guy off the field. By the way, have I told you how unappreciated Danny Pena was for the 90's Galaxy? Pull up a seat....
And if we feel this way, imagine how guys like Gary Smith feel, whose livelihoods depend on how effectively these players do their evil, evil work. I've said many times how accurate Batman was, when he said coaches are a superstitious, cowardly lot. But if my children's clothes depended on stopping more talented players, I'd tell Mullan to make that tackle a hundred times, too.
Mullan is not exceptional. Mullan did nothing out of the ordinary. Mullan was not doing anything his coaches didn't approve, if not teach. Take Mullan off the field for an extended period of time, by all means - but don't pretend he's evil. The problem goes much deeper than Mullan (and Leathers - anyone in the mood for a side rant that Mullan is being castigated because the Sounders are so much more popular than FC Dallas? No? Yeah, didn't think so).
The solution is to take the decision out of the hands of the players, the coaches, and the supporters. Fortunately, American exceptionalism can once again work in our favor. Apart from the NBA, referees and umpires are correctly treated with deference and respect. Baseball allows the kabuki of a manager and an umpire getting into a television-friendly spittle fight, but woe betide the player who questions a ball/strike call. NFL referees have the curses of the earth called down upon them weekly by America's gambling public, but never by the players, and never during the game. And when that league announces steps to protect players, those steps are taken, player, coach and pundit poutings be damned.
MLS has players, coaches and pundits whose wailings can be ignored at will. This should be an easy series of decisions. Send the referees out with the same kind of order Richelieu gave Milady in "Three Musketeers." Supply the MLS Disciplinary Committee with actual whips. In fact, instead of donating fines to charity, let the Committee pocket the fines.
All this will have to be applied to divers as well as hackers, in order to protect the eternal yin-yang of soccer cheating. But ruthless persecution of both forms of cheating will only benefit the game, and players who show up to the park intending to, you know, play.
Will this clean up the game? Maybe our game. The international game will still be a hive of scum and villainy. Blessed Holland still cheerfully calls in Nigel de Jong. And let's face it - would you rather lose to Mexico honorably, or beat them on horrible calls? Ask Charlie Davies. Or bring up the 2007 Gold Cup to an unsuspecting Canadian, and watch them turn mauve. Even if sportsmanship gets a tryout, it will never get a callup.
But the international game, along with the Premiership, La Liga, Serie A, the Bundesliga, and the Qatar Stars League, do not face the same need to convert and keep fans as MLS. There are plenty of places I can go to watch people maim and brutalize each other - I'm on the freaking Internet, aren't I? The game is beautiful. Give me the game.
(Marshall was suspended three games, fined $1,500, and traded (although the trade might not have been an official punishment). Ihemelu was suspended two games and fined $750. I forget what punishment Balboa received, and Google was unhelpful.)
(*Thanks to John Meyer and Nick Groke of the Denver Post for clarifying what Mullan said, and when. My guess is, Mullan was badly shaken and said things laughably easy to take out of context. This wasn't Dema Kovalenko callousness, in my opinion.)