“That kid is back,” declared ESPN analyst Taylor Twellman on the broadcast of Sunday’s Western Conference Championship match between the Sounders FC and LA Galaxy.
Seattle midfielder Steve Zakuani finished 80 minutes of action before being replaced by Mauro Rosales as the Sounders pressed for two goals that never came in falling to the LA Galaxy 4-2 on aggregate in the two-game series.
In that 80 minutes, he felt as good as he did any time before he suffered a fractured fibula and tibia in a match with the Colorado Rapids on April 22, 2011.
“You can go back to every game before I was injured and you won't find a better performance than I gave tonight,” Zakuani said after the match. “It was the biggest game in the franchise’s history and I think everybody stepped their game up. We gave everything we had against LA. It’s just unfortunate that we dug such a big hole.”
Zakuani started in his customary left midfield role and looked every bit the player that nabbed 10 goals and six assists in his second season in Major League Soccer in 2010. He started much the same in his first five starts of 2011, picking up two goals and two assists before suffering what some people called a career-ending injury.
Five hundred days later, he returned to the starting lineup for the Sounders, picking up an assist in a 1-1 draw with FC Dallas. Then he scored his first goal since the injury against the San Jose Earthquakes on September 22.
His playing time was limited over the final month of the season as the Sounders looked to improve their defending from the midfield as the playoffs neared. With goals in high demand in the second leg of the Western Conference Championship, though, Zakuani was again a hot commodity, rising to the task in front of 44,575 at CenturyLink Field.
Like the Zakuani of old, he routinely carried the ball up the left side, then burst past Galaxy right back Sean Franklin to the endline or around the corner and into the box.
With the extent of his injury, the nerve damage that it caused and the lengthy time he spent away from the game, it was unclear how close Zakuani would be able to get to his form before the injury.
If Sunday night was any indication, he may have gotten all the way back to that ability.
“Personally,” he said, “I was happy that I was able to get back to my level.”