MLS Spotlight: Zakuani exercising patience after long road back

By THOMAS FLOYD

Steve Zakuani sees no shame in biding his time. If he’s learned nothing else over the past year and a half, it is the art of patience and perspective.

The Seattle Sounders midfielder knows what he is capable of. Pace. Skill. Confidence. He showed it all in his breakout 2010 campaign, notching 10 goals and six assists.

Zakuani also knows where he was 18 months ago. Dazed. Distraught. Broken. One could see the agony as he was taken of the Colorado Rapids’ home field on a stretcher, the victim of misguided frustration and poor timing.

It is why he is fine with the sparing minutes he has received this season, making just seven league appearances. The broken right leg that ultimately sidelined him for more than 14 months robbed him of many things, but his spirit persisted. Still does.

“I’m not expecting to hit my top height this season, but that was never my intention,” Zakuani said. “My intention was to come back this year and get my feet wet again, and then have a really strong preseason and really be flying next season. So that’s still the plan. I’m pretty close right now, but it’ll take some time to really reach the level I had before.”

That level was an electrifying one. Using his speed and dribbling prowess, the London-bred University of Akron product quickly established himself as one of the league’s most compelling young talents after going No. 1 in the 2009 SuperDraft. For a technically oriented Sounders squad, his dynamic runs inside from the left flank added diversity to the club’s attack.

But when Rapids midfielder Brian Mullan snapped Zakuani’s tibia and fibula with a cracking slide tackle in April 2011, it all was put on hold.

“You never want to see something like that happen to anybody in any sport,” Seattle midfielder Andy Rose said. “It was a horrible, horrible thing that he’s had to endure, and for him to come through something like that, mentally more than anything, is just really, really impressive.”

To Zakuani, the incident firmly is in the past. No sense dwelling on it. It was a mindset on display when he logged his first minutes since the injury in a 2-1 win over Colorado on July 7, securing closure by swapping jerseys with Mullan in an emotional postgame exchange.

It is hard to think of a better feel-good moment in MLS this season, though when pressed, one also could make a case for Zakuani’s long-awaited return to the score sheet last month — a far-post finish in Seattle’s 2-1 loss to San Jose at CenturyLink Field.

“For me, it was the most important goal I’ve scored in my career, or probably ever will score in my career, in terms of what it did for my confidence,” said Zakuani, who noted he still would have traded the tally for a win. “It’s been a long time coming. I had dreamt of that moment.”

Zakuani’s positive approach has rubbed off on his teammates. Although his contributions on the field this season may seem marginal, his impact on the Seattle locker room has been anything but.

“Steve comes in with a smile every day,” Rose said. “To train as hard as he does and as well as he does, knowing where he could be right now if that didn’t happen, it’s definitely an inspiring thing.”

While Zakuani is unsure what kind of role coach Sigi Schmid will ask him to fill in the playoffs, he is confident he doesn’t want to relive last year’s “massive underachievement.”

The 24-year-old recalls all too well watching from a suite as Seattle’s second-leg comeback fell short and the club was ousted in the conference semifinals by Real Salt Lake — the same team the Sounders will face next weekend to open their 2012 postseason endeavors.

“This city deserves a deep playoff run from this team,” Zakuani said. “At this point, I feel ready to contribute. Whenever Sigi decides to call upon me, I’ll be ready to go.”

On Wednesday, Zakuani made a bid for more playing time by burying a composed strike during Seattle’s 3-1 win over Honduran side Marathon in CONCACAF Champions League play.

However influential his role in the playoffs turns out to be, Zakuani isn’t getting caught up in his coach’s decisions. No, he just wants to ensure that when he does step under the lights, he takes it all in.

That much he can control.

“When you’re playing in Seattle, which for me is the No. 1 environment in this country, obviously it’s unbelievable,” Zakuani said. “So when I go out there, I’ve always appreciated it, but maybe I’m more aware of why I should appreciate it — because it can be taken away.”

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13 Responses to MLS Spotlight: Zakuani exercising patience after long road back

  1. quozzel says:

    Still am hoping Zakuani recovers fully and we can snare him for the USMNT – I remember thinking he could be another Landon Donovan for us. I remember him saying he would definitely be open to listening if Bob Bradley gave him a call.

    • Shane says:

      Not cap-tied to the Congo? Pretty sure he played for them once, but dont know if it was a friendly.

    • Good Jeremy says:

      Dude. He’s not American. Citizen or not, he is Congolese, his parents aren’t American, and he was raised in London. Going to Akron on a soccer scholarship isn’t the same as being US born, an immigrant, or having American parents. It just isn’t. I wish him the best, but I see no reason he should play for the US.

      If all of our players born in the US from two American parents decided to represent European countries because they went to their academies in their late teens it would be questionable, no?

      • Charles says:

        “Dude. He’s not American. Citizen or not….”

        How does that make any sense ? So he is an American citizen, but he is not American ? Hmmmm, have to give my wife the news, bummer, Good Jeremy ruled the wrong way for her.

      • Nytshade says:

        ~Cough~Cough~ Freddy Adu ~Cough~Cough~

        Born – Ghana
        Parents – Ghanaian
        Moved to the US at the age of 8.
        Plays (albeit on the fringe) for the US National Team

        Playing on a national team is dictated by the rules of that respective nation’s citizenship rules.

        • Good Jeremy says:

          Moving to the country with immigrant parents at 8 is completely different than being raise elsewhere and coming here as an adult for a soccer scholarship.

          • John says:

            Zak is eligible to play for the US; no argument necessary. I don’t know the details or care, but know he is eligible.

      • sammysounder says:

        If you carry a passport, you’re an American. One of the things that makes me proud of being an American is that we don’t care where you were born, what your heritage or what your religion is. If you’re here long enough to have the passport you’re an American. You’re “it just isn’t the same” comment is xenophobic at best.

      • Gary B says:

        Yeah! Because, REAL Americans have to be able to trace their heritage back to the Native Americans! Oh, wait…

  2. Brent says:

    Ummm . . . the background is light blue-gray and the text is maybe a dark gold . . . and the article is really unreadable. I don’t have this problems on other links . . . so maybe this can be corrected?

  3. Edwin in LA says:

    Yeah I don’t care what Good Jeremy says….if this kid is a Citizen now or becomes one in the future and wants to play considering we NEED wingers and believe me this guy can be WAY better than say Shea or Sacha or anyone we’ve been able to try on the wing…..I say he should get a call up. But that is far far away…..he needs to get his club game back and start for Seattle again…is just that if he does and for as much time as had passed he will be Citizenship eligible most likely…..
    Regardless I just hope he comes back because if he gets back to his old self…..he can only make Seattle and our league THAT much better, I can see him getting off to a good start with Seattle in CCL quarterfinals and who knows maybe he can lead them to a Final or Semifinal appearance in that tournament

  4. Krimsonyx says:

    He’s definitely on the way back to the top, although he won’t be at his best until next season. He looked good in the CCL game. Fast and skillful on the ball are two qualities the US team are in need of.

  5. somedude says:

    He got his green card a decent time ago. He’s probably a year or two away from being citizen. If Congo doesn’t call, he could eventually be in the pool.