Whenever a Sounders player comes back from a long lay-off, one name always comes off their tongue when they make their return.
It happened with Eddie Johnson when he worked his way into shape after nearly nine months between matches – and a few more weeks when a hamstring strain delayed the start to his season.
It has been repeated by David Estrada, who worked his way back from a broken foot to play for the first time in three months on Saturday and also scored in Seattle’s reserve league finale on Sunday.
The ultimate tribute, though, came when Steve Zakuani ran to the sideline on Saturday after scoring his first goal in 17 months against the San Jose Earthquakes and hugged Dave Tenney, the Sounders FC fitness coach who has helped these players and more back to the field.
“It’s tremendous to see what he’s had to go through. Him having ups, having downs, having periods where he plateaus, but ultimately persevering through everything,” Tenney said. “He’s still in the beginning process of everything but starting four games in a row and getting the goal, it’s kind of just rewards for the work he’s done and gives him ample motivation to keep going after it.”
Tenney, who came to the Sounders in 2009 after working in the same role with the Kansas City Wizards for two seasons, has subtly been a very important piece to the Sounders FC staff, keeping players healthy with his fitness metrics and getting them back to health when injuries do strike.
He’s not alone though, as the training staff of Randy Noteboom and Chris Cornish along with the rest of the coaching staff have played significant roles in those journeys as well.
Tenney’s role, though, is one that is not necessarily on the top of the minds of onlookers when they see players back on the field in good form.
It is for that reason that the players frequently mention Tenney when they make those comebacks.
“It’s very flattering. It means that the system we have in place is working,” Tenney said. “There are a lot of people involved though. It’s a group effort.”
However, the return to the field isn’t always just a physical battle. There is also a psychological element that also plays a role in a player’s recovery from a long-term injury.
That, Tenney said, is often the most difficult part of getting back to the high level that players like Zakuani expect to reach and Zakuani himself was not immune to such difficulties, which made his goal on Saturday all the more sweet.
“He’s worked so hard to get back to specific points and then has periods where he plateaued. Through pain and through hard work and times when he wasn’t able to be with his teammates … he’s human and he needed reminders that there is a light there at the end of the tunnel,” Tenney said. “Theoretically after an injury like that, you have to work harder than you’ve ever worked in your life over a long period of time. That’s not, mentally, very easy.”
Now with Zakuani and Estrada back in the mix for the Sounders, Tenney is also working to get Mauro Rosales back on the field as well after suffering a quad strain that has had him sidelined for the last three matches. The Sounders will meet the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday at GM Place in Vancouver in a nationally televised match on NBC Sports.