There was a single moment of 2011 that has managed to stay in the back of my mind for months. It is a moment that few would care to remember but I believe it is one of importance. Early in the season there was an ill-fated tackle from a scrambling Brian Mullan that ended the season of Seatlle's Steve Zakuani. That sad moment has remained with me throughout the year and as I look back over the course of the year, I can safely say that some good did come of it.
No one ever wants to see a player injured and in this particular instance, the injury was horrific. If you feel the need for context, take a look here.
Now, what has come from this moment now almost nine months later? Several things.
First and foremost we saw a very human side to the players involved. Mullan was seen in tears as he left the field and stadium, realizing the extent of what he'd done. We saw Mullan serve his ten game suspension with humility and take steps to rectify his mistake. Further more we saw fan bases flock to their players for support.
Seattle fans rallied around Steve Zakuani to lend their words, well wishes and prayers for a safe and healthy return. Players rallied and the locker room grew closer. Literal blood, sweat and tears were shed in the land of Rave Green, only to see the team win an Open Cup, win in Mexico and graduate Kasey Keller to a legendary send off. The Zakuani injury caused ill of many, but it was a painful start to a fantastic journey for the Sounders in 2011.
The league also took notice as the Zakuani injury was the start of a sad trend in early 2011. Star attacking players taking injury due to tackles. The league then made clear through suspensions and fines that reckless tackles would not be tolerated. Essentially, MLS realized that it had to protect its investments of attacking talent. That's a win for all involved.
And what of Brian Mullan? Well he returned to the field after his suspension and fine were paid off only to show well. Mullan's year started off in horrific fashion, but that injury too helped him grow. His professionalism and willingness to allow his team to support him will see him add to an impressive list of accolades. Nearly a year out when we think of Brian Mullan do we think of the Zakuani tackle? Sure. But does it define Brian Mullan as a player? Not at all.
As you head in to the new year and a new season arrives, keep in mind that greatness is forged through struggle and sacrifice. The trials faced may be daunting, but with hard work and determination, anything is possible.
The year 2012 holds great things for Major League Soccer. Happy New Year.