Zakuani Up In Down Time

Though shoulder surgery has slowed his off-season, Sounders FC midfielder Steve Zakuani is primed for his second MLS season.

It would be understandable if Steve Zakuani had a bit of a chip on his shoulder this off-season. After swallowing the bitter pill of a first-round playoff exit at the hands of the Houston Dynamo in November, he had a chip removed. Just days after the inaugural season ended, Zakuani underwent surgery to remove a bone chip and clean up some torn ligaments in his shoulder.

Since then, there have been no major set backs and the only nuisance has come in the form of pain he has experienced since surgery. Still, Zakuani has stayed upbeat knowing he will be able to participate when the Sounders open training camp January 25.

“It’s been frustrating to an extent because I’ve had a lot of pain since the surgery,” Zakuani said after returning to Seattle from visiting his family in his native London. “I’ve had good results so far on my rehab. They just gave me the ok to start running, so I’m a bit ahead of schedule. I’ll get on a fitness program before preseason, then I’ll be able to come into preseason at least running – maybe not training, but at least running.”

His shoulder had been a problem for him all season, occasionally tightening up in training and in games. Then, toward the end of the season he had an unusual amount of pain during a training session and went in for an MRI, revealing a chipped bone and some torn ligaments.

Though the pain was present most of the season, it was never a hindrance to him on the field until late in the season. But even then, it was more of a mental hurdle than a physical setback.

“Once I had the MRI, I knew exactly what was wrong and I was scared I would make it worse,” said Zakuani, who appeared in 29 games in his rookie campaign, starting 24 for the US Open Cup champion Sounders. “It was never an issue of contact hurting it, but I was always careful not to make it worse before the surgery. I don’t know how much it limited me in what I did, but I always had it in my mind not to make it worse before the surgery.”

Briefly, he thought surgery during the season would be the right way to go, but instead decided to wait it out, knowing that he would still be fit for training camp in January. Recently, he started running again and is on a rehabilitation plan set up by the doctors and therapists at Virginia Mason, along with the Sounders FC athletic training staff. He expects to be at 70-80 percent when camp starts in February and should be able to participate in non-contact training at that time.

As frustrating as the slow rehab process may be, Zakuani has no problem being patient. After all, his 2003 ACL reconstruction had him on the shelf for nearly 18 months. His latest surgery, surprisingly, has him more antsy for a return.

“This one is more frustrating,” said Zakuani. “When I had my knee surgery, I was young and knew I had plenty of time. Now I’ve been watching the calendar so closely and wondering where I’m going to be on January 25.”

Zakuani notched four goals and four assists in 2009, third and fourth for the Sounders FC respectively, while transitioning from the striker position he played at University of Akron to the left wing with Seattle. While that personal success helped the Sounders FC reach the playoffs in their inaugural season at 12-7-11, he hopes to improve on that in Year Two.

“As good as last year was, we’re excited to get this next year started. My rookie year was a good building block, but this year is about moving on from that and not just being a good young player in the MLS but being a good player in the MLS,” Zakuani said. “I want to do everything better – score more, assist more, everything.”

The Sounders FC open training camp at their training facility at Starfire January 25 before heading to Phoenix, Arizona, February 1 and La Manga, Spain, February 16. Seattle opens the 2010 regular season with the MLS First Kick on Xbox Pitch at Qwest Field, March 25 against the league's newest franchise, the Philadelphia Union, in a nationally televised game on ESPN.

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