Steve Zakuani may well have had Monday’s date circled on the calendar.
Growing up in Arsenal’s youth program in London, Zakuani saw first-hand the masterful of work of midfielder Freddie Ljungberg in his finest days with the Gunners. He was there along the way for all of the benchmark moments in Ljungberg’s Arsenal career, from his first game to the perfect season. Without knowing it, Ljungberg may have done as much to shape Zakuani’s young career as any player.
After the Sounders FC selected him No. 1 in the MLS SuperDraft in January, Zakuani reported to Seattle two days later for the start of training camp. He went to Renton and the Virginia Mason Athletic Center, where he saw Ljungberg’s locker just a few spots down from his. One of the players after whom he had patterned his playing style would now be his teammate with the Sounders FC.
However, Ljungberg underwent hip surgery in December, so their first meeting had to wait until the Swedish captain joined the team Monday.
“It’s incredible. I reminded him yesterday that I was there in the stadium when he made his debut for Arsenal,” Zakuani said. “For me to be on the same team as him is unbelievable. Already he’s given me advice and that’s much appreciated. I’m looking forward to learning from him.”
Ljungberg blends right in with his teammates, though he is spending much of the training time working on conditioning drills on the sideline. Tuesday morning, he was doing those drills alongside Zakuani, who has been sidelined by an ankle injury. Zakuani was asking questions of Ljungberg, but was more surprised to field some himself.
“I was a bit surprised that he is asking questions too,” Zakuani said. “He’s just laid-back. He’s just one of the guys. He’s ready to talk to you and he takes interest in you.”
Before his injury, Zakuani was having a fine training camp, making a strong transition from the striker position he played in college to the left wing, where he fit in nicely with Seattle’s attacking style. The injury made him a spectator while the team trained in Argentina, but he used the time off the field to gain a new perspective of his teammates.
“The team has grown a lot. There’s a lot of chemistry. It’s been fun to watch as it gets closer and closer,” Zakuani said. “I’ve got a better idea of how things look from the outside, so once I get back in there, I’ll know what to do.”
Zakuani hopes to be back on the field Wednesday. The team will train at Qwest Field and have a training game against the Colorado Rapids Thursday. They open the season March 19 at Qwest Field against the New York Red Bulls.