With each passing day, things are starting to feel more normal for Steve Zakuani.
The Sounders FC midfielder is now nearing the 11-month mark since suffering a horrific double-leg fracture in a match against the Colorado Rapids on April 22, 2011, and is making progress toward his eventual return to the lineup.
Last week, head coach Sigi Schmid even said that Zakuani could appear in a reserve game as early as next month.
“I’m just taking it day-by-day,” Zakuani said. “If they want to put me in a reserve game, I wouldn’t say no. I don’t know if I can do a game yet, but I’m pretty close.”
At training on Sunday, Zakuani had moments where he looked just like his old self, stepping over the ball, dashing from point-to-point, hammering shots with his right foot.
Moments like that encourage the 24-year-old winger, but he knows he still has to be patient in what has been a tedious process to get him back on the field.
“That’s the sort of thing that builds confidence. It’s been a really rough recovery. There were times when I was coming out here in the summer and I could barely jog with our trainer. Now I’m playing with the guys,” he said. “That’s great progress and it makes me happy, but I want more. I’m still pushing to get back to where I need to be, and I’m getting there slowly.”
Zakuani said that he is at times hitting the same speeds that he was reaching before the injury, but head coach Sigi Schmid wants to see consistency in those speed read-outs before he is willing to put him back in a rave green jersey.
If he continues at his current progress, he hopes to be back in with the first team by July or August. In the meantime, the coaches are building him back to a competitive level. That means slight variations in his training schedule and occasional days off, but he is often included in all of the training drills with the rest of the team.
“We’re putting him in more competitive situations all the time, eventually against opposition where guys aren’t going to be as protective of him,” Schmid said. “It’s just him feeling sharp in bigger field situations. Within 5v5 and small-sided stuff, he feels a lot more comfortable there, but there aren’t the long recovery runs.”
As he gets closer to match-fitness, Zakuani is starting to feel more “normal.” It’s not the first time he’s suffered a bad leg injury that forced him into a long rehabilitation though. In 2003, he crashed a motorcycle, tearing his ACL and leaving him questioning if he wanted to continue playing soccer.
The success he had in his first two seasons with the Sounders and his two years at the University of Akron before that has him encouraged that he will find his feet again when he’s able to make his return.
“My right side was never the same as my left side, but I played three seasons in MLS and played just fine. I don’t think anyone who has that kind of injury ever gets their leg back to where it was,” he said. “My leg feels more like a normal leg. It will probably never be the same again, but I have to learn to adjust and compensate with what I have. I think I’ve done the right things in the rehab. We’ve managed it well. I’ve come back before and was able to play at a high level. It took more of a beating this time, but I’ll be fine … eventually.”