Major League Soccer's top brass must be shaking their heads after a number of star players had season-ending injuries over the last few weeks.
MLS is still selling the game of soccer and working hard to establish a niche in North America's crowded sports market. While the league has made great strides in the last ten years with soccer specific stadiums and signing big-time players like David Beckham and Thierry Henry, they cannot afford to lose key players who can get fans out of their seats almost every time they touch the ball.
Seattle Sounders FC midfielder Steve Zakuani was the first player to be lost for the season in a game against Colorado Rapids on April 22. In the third minute of the game, Colorado’s Brian Mullen went in hard and a little reckless on Zakuani, fracturing his tibia and fibula. MLS came down hard on Mullen by suspending him for 10 games.
Javier Morales of Real Salt Lake was heading towards a Most Valuable Player season when the Argentine midfielder was tackled from behind by Chivas USA defender and fellow countryman Marcos Mondaini. It resulted in a fracture-dislocation and torn ligaments of Morales' left ankle, with the RSL star likely out until possibly October, while Mondaini was handed a four-match suspension.
Last year's MVP David Ferreira (FC Dallas) had successful surgery to repair a double fracture in his right ankle that effectively ended his season. This came about on April 23 in Vancouver against Whitecaps FC on a challenge by defender Jonathan Leathers. The league reviewed the tackle and came to the conclusion that the challenge was fair and that Leathers got the ball before his momentum carried him into Ferreira, who got his foot caught in the turf, which resulted in the injury.
D.C. United, meanwhile, lost designated player Branko Boskovic for the season to a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his knee. This occurred on a tackle from behind by New England striker Alan Koger in a Lamar Hunt US Open Cup qualifying match against the Revolution on April 26.
While MLS has clamped down on reckless tackles by players, it is still a concern for the league and its clubs. Everyone has to do their up most to protect their star players from the demands of a tough MLS season.