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Injury, agony and aftermath

April 24, 2011 | 2:02 pm 8
By Shaun Schafer

(Editor’s Note: This post contains an image that captures the moment of a player’s leg breaking. Do not scroll to the bottom of this post if such an image might offend or upset you.)

 As the scars on my knees attest, injury is a part of soccer. Friday night, this point came home in an excruciating instant when  Colorado Rapids midfielder Brian Mullan tackled Seattle’s Steve Zakuani.

The collision came in the third minute on the west sideline near the Rapids bench. Mullan, fighting for the ball, went low. He swept the ball and Zakuani’s leg. It was a tackle Mullan has made thousands of times, but the result was much different.

Mullan was ejected for breaking Zakuani’s leg. After the incident several people, including Seattle coach Sigi Schmid, said they could hear the leg break. I was on the west side, 30 yards away, and I didn’t hear a thing. In fact, I was surprised Mullan got a straight red for the sort of tackle that gets made every day.

It was only several hours after the game that the magnitude of what happened emerged. It was then that I saw photographs my crew from ColoradoSoccerNow.com shot at the game.

The image of impact churned my stomach. In 1/100th of a second, a photograph had captured the tackle in its perfect awfulness. I have been flinching since then as I have debated what to do with this image. I decided not to include it in the game coverage, which can be read here.

Instead, the injury and what came next can be found at the end of this post. It’s here so readers, like you, can see why Mullan was sent out, and why he will face additional penalties. I only understood it after I saw the first image.

Sport involves injuries and milliseconds can determine the difference in any match. This was one of those moments.

In the minutes that followed, we also got to see some of what makes sport special. The image of Drew Moor as he hold’s Zakuani’s hand in comfort lingers with a poignancy that nearly overwhelms the shock of the tackle. It’s the image I hope stays with me in the coming weeks and months. Combined, it’s a reminder that it may be “just a game,” but it comes at a cost. And, even in the middle of competition, we retain our humanity. Hopefully. 

Steve Zakuani's leg buckles and breaks under the pressure of a tackle from Brian Mullan. (Photograph by Jessica Taves/ColoradoSoccerNow.com)

Trainers and players surround Zakuani after the collision.



Drew Moor offers comfort to Zakuani.



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  • georgie said:

    AMAZING photos, jess!

  • Minnie said:

    OMG gross. Poor guy, I can’t even imagine the pain.

  • Russell Gibson said:

    I saw this happen twice. I was a sophomore in high school, standing on the sideline, watching Liberty University play Elon College (I think). An LU midfielder, Robert Weaver, collected the ball and was moving up the sideline when he was tackled. I heard that break as I was only about 10 yards away. It took a long time to get him off the field. I remember they used an inflatable cast to immobilize his compound tib/fib fracture. A couple years later I was playing in a recreation league in Lynchburg, when Weaver, and a long time friend of mine, Robbie Keaton, both slid into a 50/50 ball. I was only a few feet away from this one. Weaver caused the injury this time. I think everyone on the field heard that one, and I saw Keaton’s fibia protruding from a small hole on the inside of his ankle when an EMT pulled his sock down. That was a pretty nasty one. Weaver left immediately and drove home. He told me later the sound alone reminded him so much of his own injury that he had thrown up on the way to his car.

  • Shaun Schafer (author) said:

    Wow, then you are leading me in the view of injuries. I have seen a leg break, but never both bones at once. It was surreal at the park, but it was awful in the photos.

  • Andreas said:

    I sat a few rows up right in front of this and you could defidently hear it. I thought something had flown out and hit the banners but after a little bit it was obvious what it was. Worst injury I have ever seen was a keeper went up to catch a corner and got knocked in the post. Split his skull open and our striker swears he saw grey. Broke my own leg stepping infront of a shot so I know how long the recovery is. You never play the same after things like that.

  • Jeff Hester said:

    Wow, that reminds me of when I broke my hand sliding into second base in a baseball game. A slide I had made all of my life.

    I like the way you ended that story…

  • Shaun Schafer (author) said:


    Thank you for the kind comments.


  • eric said:

    wow great story!

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