Sounders settle for tie in Steve Zakuani’s almost return

Seattle Sounders FC almost ended what is now a six-game winless streak, but Fredy Montero’s shot in the 88th minute somehow skirted along the goal line before hitting the post and bouncing away. And Steve Zakuani, who hasn’t played in 14 months, almost made his return, but was held out of the game because, well, his coach was afraid the midfielder might end up with another broken leg. Or something like that.

Zakuani, who hasn’t played since having his leg broken on April 22, 2011, the result of a reckless tackle by Colorado’s Brian Mullan, was suited up and available off the bench for the first time since that injury. But as Sounders FC coach Sigi Schmid watched a very physical game unfold, he decided it would be best to let Zakuani’s debut wait for another night.

“One of the reasons I didn’t come with him was because of the physical nature of the game,” Schmid said. “The referee wasn’t really protecting players and I didn’t think that was a good environment to throw him into in the first game.”

For Zakuani, getting back on the sideline was still another big step in his long recovery, even if he didn’t get into the game.

“That’s the first time I’ve watched a game from the bench for over a year, so it was a good experience for me to have that taste today,” he said. “It would have been nice to get in, but I think way the game went, it was probably smart not to. I feel a lot more a part of the team with that kind of step forward, so it’s good. It’s a huge step forward.”

And if we can go back a minute to what Schmid said, the part about the referee not “really protecting players,” that was very much an issue on Wednesday night. It’s not that the game was poorly officiated in one team’s favor, but rather that referee Jair Marrufo let the game get out of hand to the point that some nasty fouls late in the game were inevitable. By not keeping players in line early in the game, Marrufo let frustration build on both sides, which resulted in a lot of unnecessary fouls, including the one in stoppage time that earned Alvaro Fernandez a much-deserved red card. Games like these are ones Major League Soccer needs to avoid if it wants to continue to grow and improve as a league. For years teams and players have complained that overly-physical play goes unchecked too often, allowing teams to neutralize the league’s most skilled players. Recently that has been a problem for Seattle’s Mauro Rosales, and early on in the franchise’s history, it was an issue with Freddie Ljungberg. Not only is having star players constantly fouled bad for fans, who like to see skilled players creating goals, it also acts as a deterrent that keeps away exactly the type of players the league would love to have more of.

Anyway, enough of that little rant. Time to call it a night. But before signing off, I leave you with this beauty of a goal by, of all people, defender Patrick Ianni. Watch it. It’s ridiculous.

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