One year has passed since the day that changed Steve Zakuani’s life.
One year since a tibia-fibula fracture and subsequent Compartment syndrome knocked him out of action and threatened his soccer career, Zakuani was all smiles at Sounders FC training on Sunday.
“I’m happy to an extent, but at the same time I have inside me the desire to get back to my full level. It is good progress,” he said. “A year ago was obviously the roughest day of my life, but I’m here, I’m standing, so I’m happy.”
At the time of his injury, Zakuani was one of the most promising young stars in Major League Soccer. After being taken first overall by the Sounders in the 2009 MLS SuperDraft, he showed flashes of that promise in notching four goals and four assists in 29 appearances in his rookie season.
His second season saw a significant jump in production, with Zakuani tallying 10 goals and six assists in 29 appearances, playing 292 more minutes in his second year than he did in his first.
He looked to be continuing along that progression at the start of the 2011 season, picking up two goals and two assists in five appearances in the club’s first six matches before the ill-fated tackle ended his season in Commerce City, Colorado.
Fate hasn’t reunited Zakuani and Colorado Rapids midfielder Brian Mullan, the perpetrator of that tackle. When they finally do meet on the field, though, Zakuani will be satisfied that the final chapter in that saga has been written.
“It was just a one-off incident that brought us together at that time and we’re tied together forever because of that. But I wish him the best,” Zakuani said. “The final thing will be me and him coming face to face. So we’re getting closer to having complete closure for everybody involved, so that’s a good thing, as well.”
Each week of recovery has brought new challenges for the 24-year-old midfielder. Some of those, he has smashed through with ease. Others, by nature of the rehab process, have been more difficult.
He is at one such plateau right now, which will prevent him from playing in Monday’s reserve league match against Chivas USA in Carson, California. The move is viewed simply as a precautionary measure, a circumstance of poor timing.
“At the end of the day, it’s his call. He has to be mentally and physically ready,” Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid said. “Only he is the one who can tell. I put my trust in him in that regard.”
The club will evaluate Zakuani’s progress this week and establish another plan for him as the Sounders prepare for a busy portion of the schedule that will see them play five MLS matches in a two-week span beginning April 28 against the Chicago Fire. Schmid mentioned the possibility of playing another training game between their home match against Real Salt Lake on May 12 and their road contest with the Vancouver Whitecaps on May 19, especially because their next reserve league match won’t come until June 1.
Even at that stage, Zakuani will have plenty of work to do before he returns to the field for the Sounders.
“It’s the next step. It’s going to take more than one reserve game,” Schmid said. “He’s made a lot of steps forward, so now he has to make those final steps and those steps at the end might be a little steeper.”
Zakuani is no stranger to the hard work needed to come back from the devastating injury and he’s prepared to put in that effort to get through the final obstacles.
“I still think I have a lot of work to do, a lot of pushing to do. It’s things like this that people really don't see -- what goes on behind. There’s a lot of work,” he said. “There’s a lot of work on this leg still to be done because it was a really horrific injury. To get back to a high level is not easy, and I’m trying to do that.”