Mullan's long suspension nearly over

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. — This weekend’s home game against the LA Galaxy is a big one on a few levels for the defending champions Colorado Rapids.

Not only is it the first game for the Rapids since they broke their league-record streak of six consecutive ties with a win last weekend in Portland, but it’s also a big test against the Western Conference leaders and all their glamour.

And it’s also the last game that Brian Mullan will have to sit out.

The Rapids midfielder, who declined to comment for this article, is serving a 10-game suspension after being sent off on April 22 against the Seattle Sounders, when his third-minute tackle resulted in Steve Zakuani breaking his leg in two places.

It’s been an emotionally painful journey for Mullan, who early on in his suspension indicated that he may not be able to make the hard tackles he has always been known for following the Zakuani incident.

But with time and perhaps with some confidence after returning to the pitch, teammates and coaches feel the old Mullan will gradually reappear.

“Brian is slowly but surely getting back to the player we need him to be,” Scott Palguta, Mullan’s roommate on road games, told MLSsoccer.com this week. “That feistiness and competitive spirit made him into the player he is, not to mention the talent he has.”

Mullan is hugely respected as a player and a person by his teammates and the Rapids coaching staff, and Palguta said he has really gotten to know the veteran through the various road trips last season and into the early part of this year.

“The biggest punishment for Brian is what he has put himself through,” Palguta said. “You will not find a more genuine guy anywhere. He is a family man who leads a simple life and who tends to be private. As teammates, you just have to be there for him.”

Assistant coach Steve Guppy said everyone within the Rapids organization is looking forward to the end of Mullan’s suspension.

“This has very much affected Brian, who has been a fabulous servant for this league and is a top guy,” Guppy told MLSsoccer.com. “Brian has always had a competitive — but not a dirty — mindset. Sometimes, if you take that competitiveness out, you miss something in a player.”

Mullan should be available for the Rapids' away game in Columbus on June 26, the day before the reigning champs are due to meet President Barack Obama at the White House to celebrate their MLS Cup victory.

What his role in the game against the Crew will be is not known for now, but everyone at the Rapids is hoping it will be a successful return for the veteran.

“We expect him to come back as we would expect him to be,” Guppy said.