Zakuani, Ferreira and Morales: Never forget the Spring to Forget

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I hope the pathos wasn’t lost on you. It actually hit me quite hard; hence, this post.

When Steve (in yesterday’s Power Rankings) reminded us that David Ferreira’s ankle is still “wonky,” it should have given everybody pause. Two years ago, this was the best player in the league. Last year, he was taken out by an inexcusably reckless tackle. Today, it’s possible his career will never be the same. After all, how many players deal with an injury’s lingering effects 12 months on yet bounce back to their former selves? Let alone a 32-year-old?

Ferreira’s not the only player having trouble. In fact, all three victims of last year’s Spring to Forget have yet to assume their former selves. Seattle Sounder Steve Zakuani hasn’t returned to the field after a Apr. 22 leg-break caused by a Brian Mullan challenge. Ferriera’s injury happened against the Whitecaps on Apr. 24, while Real Salt Lake’s Javier Morales suffered his own ankle injury break/dislocation on May 7. At least Javi’s playing again.

As those stars were taken out, there were near-unanimous calls around MLS Soccer-dom for change – clean up a culture that too often forgives aggressiveness as ingenuity. That kind of aggression is more readily described as poor sportsmanship, even if that’s not the intent. Marginalizing the health of a peer because you are a hard working, hard charging kind of payer is unfathomably disrespectful. “That’s just the kind of guy I am” sounds inane compared to “well, that’s just the kind of leg/ankle he has.” MLS will be fine without that tackle. It’s far less fine without Zakuani and Ferreira.

At the time, it was unclear whether any lessons had been learned. After the huge flock of Sounders fans created a justified uproar over Mullan’s challenge, the Rapids midfielder got a 10-game ban. The backlash to Marco Mondaini breaking Morales’s ankle wasn’t as loud, and the suspension (4 games) wasn’t as long. Mondiani deserved a longer ban. That he failed to get one hinted Major League Soccer was struggling with the issue.

Now, it’s unclear whether we are ready to apply new standards, with the culture around MLS still implicitly forgiving the aggressive challenge, coloring it as gritty or gutty. This weekend in Kansas City, Sporting’s defenders were able to use excessive aggression as a way to slow down FC Dallas early, setting a tone for the rest of the match. It’s not a practice unique to Kansas City. In fact, few likely saw KC’s tact as out of the ordinary. Yet, they’re tactics that push the rules, may have precluded a tempo Dallas could have enforced, and evoke some of the uglier customs our culture’s inherited from English tradition.

And as all this was happening, Kansas City’s color man questioned Dallas’s players, claiming they were going down too easy. Fans in MLS Live’s Facebook stream echoed his sentiments. The people on Facebook and Twitter questioning why KC’s players were plowing into FCD’s? A shouted-down minority.

At some point, the challenge Matt Besler made to the back of Andrew Jacobson’s leg in Sunday’s second half will blow out a knee, and while we’ll wonder why another valuable player is being sidelined when it’s so easy to crackdown on grey-area aggression, we should really be questioning why we didn’t continue the call for change.