Brian Mullan will be suspended 10 games, matching the longest ban in MLS history, and fined $5,000 for breaking the leg of Steve Zakuani last week with a reckless slide tackle.

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Keep the game clean.

That’s the message Sounders FC players and coaches hope was delivered in the heavy punishment of Colorado Rapids midfielder Brian Mullan on Thursday.

Mullan will be suspended 10 games, matching the longest ban in MLS history, and fined $5,000 for breaking the leg of Steve Zakuani last week with a reckless slide tackle. Mullan will not appeal the decision.

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Seattle goalkeeper Kasey Keller said he understands why the MLS Disciplinary Committee came down so hard on Mullan.

“It’s something in the game they want to take out of the equation,” Keller said. “Nobody wants to see those kinds of tackles flying around and obviously you don’t want to see guys in hospital beds and out for long stretches. The punishment is there, and now hopefully somebody thinks twice about doing the same thing.”

Protecting players with the ball and eliminating violent tackles was a point of emphasis this season, as stated by MLS commissioner Don Garber in a preseason teleconference.

Nelson Rodriguez, the executive vice president of competition and game operations, said in a statement that the disciplinary committee “felt the egregious nature” of Mullan’s foul justified the punishment.

“In making this decision,” Rodriguez said, “the committee took several factors into account: the timing of the challenge, the location on the field, the moments immediately before the challenge where it is clear that Mullan is frustrated and the severity of Zakuani’s injury.

“Mullan’s tackle is the type of play we need to eliminate from our game, and the level of discipline is consistent with our efforts to do so.”

Zakuani was able to return to Seattle on Tuesday but remains hospitalized at the Virginia Mason Medical Center. Teammate Jeff Parke — who was suspended 10 games in 2008 for violating the league’s substance-abuse and behavioral-health policy — said finally learning Mullan’s punishment will help the team move on.

“He definitely deserved it,” said Parke, who viewed Mullan’s initial apology as not entirely sincere. “I can’t say, ‘Oh, 10 games is a lot!’ It is a lot, but Zak’s not playing the rest of the year.”

Sounders FC general manager Adrian Hanauer said in a statement that he hopes Mullan’s suspension is the right step toward protecting the league’s dynamic, attacking players.

“However, the harsh reality of this situation is that no length of suspension will bring back Steve to action any faster,” said Hanauer, who previously called Mullan’s tackle “dirty.”

Added Sounders FC coach Sigi Schmid: “I think everybody that’s been involved with this whether it’s Steve Zakuani or Brian Mullan — has been severely affected.

“It’s left an impression on everyone.”

White also out

Sounders FC forward O’Brian White, who is tied for the team lead with two goals, underwent surgery Wednesday to remove a blood clot in his left leg. The 25-year-old Jamaican will remain in the hospital for several days and no timetable is set for his return.

Schmid said blood clots are potentially life-threatening if not detected early, but White is expected to make a full recovery.

Notes

• Colorado Rapids managing director Jeff Plush said in a statement Thursday that the team “strongly disagrees” with the severity of Mullan’s punishment.

• Former Sounders FC midfielder Peter Vagenas signed Thursday with Vancouver.

Joshua Mayers: 206-464-3184 or jmayers@seattletimes.com