Hitting The Home Stretch

Steve Zakuani is four months from his next match, but he sees the light at the end of the tunnel on his long road to recovery.

Each year, the Sounders FC begins their training camp in late January after a two-month break following the previous season.  This year, camp is likely to begin a bit sooner with the Sounders opening the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League as soon as March 6.

However, Steve Zakuani’s training camp started this week.

Ever since breaking his leg on April 22 in a 1-0 win over the Colorado Rapids, the recovery process has been long and rigorous.  But last month, he finally took some time off, visiting family in London, England,

He visited family and friends, talked with kids at a local school and watched his older brother Gabriel play center back for Peterborough in a 1-0 loss to West Ham in the Championship.

Most of all though, he had a chance to rest before hitting the path to recovery hard and a chance to show his family that he was further along that path then they ever could have imagined.

“I went more for them than for me,” Zakuani said, noting that he hadn’t seen his mother since early in the recovery process.  “I was up and about and I was independent.  For them, it’s been a quick recovery, but for me, I’ve been in my body everyday so I’ve seen the slow process.”

The rest and relaxation was well-deserved for Zakuani, who scored ten goals to go with six assists in 2010 and followed it up with two goals and two assists in his first five matches this season before Brian Mullan ended his season with a harsh tackle that got the Colorado midfielder suspended ten games.

Now he begins two- and three-a-day workouts to get back to the form that had him among the more promising young superstars in the league.

“I just want to get back to my level,” he said.  “I was having so much fun playing.  That’s my challenge.  It’s a strong challenge, but I’m up for it.”

He’s made his share of sacrifices along the way, too, working out morning, noon and night and rarely spends time doing anything that isn’t geared toward his recovery.

And while he is now doing a lot of the cutting and dashing and kicking that he’d be doing in a normal workout if the injury never occurred, he is still glad that he was never pressured to get back on the field before the end of the 2011 season.  When September 15 passed and he was still on injured reserve, it marked the end of the 2011 season and signaled that he could focus instead on gearing up to the 2012 season without any pressure.

“My motivation wasn’t to play this year.  It was to play at all,” Zakuani said.  “The team was doing so well that I didn’t need to push it.  Now I’ve given myself four extra months.”

While his earliest possible competitive return won’t come until the Champions League quarterfinal, Zakuani finally feels like his full recovery is within reach.

“I can see the home stretch,” he said.  “I can smell it.  I really miss it, but I feel like I’m getting close.”

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