Quietly, Sunday was a big day for the Sounders FC.
It was just a reserve game – and a 3-0 loss to the San Jose Earthquakes at that. But it was also the first time in nearly 16 months that Steve Zakuani played 90 minutes, putting much more importance on the match than the final scoreline would indicate.
“It was hard. It was a hot day and the San Jose team had much more experience than we had, so it was a lot of chasing the ball and a lot of fitness. For myself, it was a chance to get some minutes that I haven’t been getting really,” Zakuani said after the team’s training session on Tuesday. “To get 90 minutes was good and to be able to train 48 hours later was great.”
Zakuani hadn’t played 90 minutes in a match since April 16, 2011, when he manned the left wing in a 1-1 draw with the Philadelphia Union in a downpour at PPL Park. While he played more of a forward role in the reserve match to get him more touches on the ball in a less physically taxing position, it was a great step in the right direction for a player that suffered a fractured tibia and fibula and later battled back from compartment syndrome to get back on the field against all odds.
Now impressing with his moments of brilliance in training and in his limited minutes on the field, he is regaining the fitness needed to contribute consistently enough to advance beyond just being included in the 18 for games.
“I don’t have much to go in training. Games are a different story. I’m over the injury. I never think about it anymore,” Zakuani said. “I think about match fitness and match sharpness and getting my form, which is tough, but I’m close.”
Before the injury, suffered on April 22, 2011, Zakuani was one of the most explosive, dynamic players in the league. He had 10 goals and six assists in his second MLS season in 2010, matching Fredy Montero for the club’s lead in goals. In five starts before his injury in 2011, he had two goals and two assists.
In 2012, he has made three appearances in official matches, with two starts in the reserve league, totaling 135 minutes, and one substitute appearance in an MLS match, playing four minutes in a 2-1 win over the Colorado Rapids on July 7.
He is being patient as he works his way back into the rotation, which is difficult for a player that made an impact on the Sounders from the day he was drafted first overall in the 2009 MLS SuperDraft after two stellar seasons at Akron.
“I knew it would be hard to be patient,” he said. “I was used to playing every game and I had a long fight on my hands, but I think I’ve done well to get back to where I am. I’m trying every day to bring back a few more things.”
Some of those things showed up in his game against the San Jose reserves on Sunday and Seattle head coach Sigi Schmid, who has included Zakuani on the bench with more and more frequency in recent weeks, is looking to involve him more on the field as well.
“There were periods within the game that you could see his explosion and I think that helps his confidence,” Schmid said. “He’s not a 90-minute fit player, but it was good for him to get 90 minutes.”
The Sounders will face the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday at CenturyLink Field at 1 pm and will host the LA Galaxy in the MLS Reserve League on Sunday at 1 pm at Starfire, giving Zakuani two more opportunities this weekend to move closer to his top form.