Sigi Schmid targeted 2013 as the year that he expected to see Steve Zakuani back to the player who took the league by storm with 10 goals and six assists in 2010.
However, he may admit that he was a bit off on that judgment.
Instead, he’s getting much more from the 24-year-old winger from London who was Seattle’s first-ever pick in the MLS SuperDraft back in 2009.
With all of his rehab work behind him and now focusing just on his fitness and strength, Zakuani is in the best shape of his life as he prepares to re-emerge as a top talent in Major League Soccer.
“I have a lot of confidence right now. I’m feeling good and I’m just happy to be back,” he said as the Sounders FC opened training camp for the 2013 season this week.
He has plenty of reason to be optimistic.
His fitness statistics are better than they have been at any other point in his time with the Sounders FC and he mentioned that he even enjoyed going on runs during his offseason vacations. It is not merely a case of a player who had an injury and vows to be better than before without anything to measure from beforehand. In what proved to be the final match of the 2012 season for the Sounders in the Western Conference finals against the LA Galaxy, Zakuani started and played 81 of the best minutes of his career on the left wing.
“I know we lost to LA, but from a personal standpoint I was very happy,” he said. “I knew already that I was ready to perform at that level, but I hadn’t been playing. When the moment came, I felt ready.”
In total, he played 419 minutes in the regular season and playoffs, netting one goal and one assist while also adding one goal in 78 minutes during Seattle’s 4-0-0 run through the Group Stage of the CONCACAF Champions League.
Those appearances and Zakuani’s readiness for training camp aren’t the only things that have head coach Sigi Schmid smiling about the Akron product's full return to the field though.
He has added something new in his fifth season in MLS.
“I’m excited that he’s healthy. I’m also excited by his attitude … by his enthusiasm as he comes in each day to practice because his enthusiasm affects a lot of the other guys on the team,” Schmid said. “He’s always been a great individual player and Steve’s always made sure that he’s prepared to play. But there’s a little bit of a shift where he feels more of a responsibility to make sure that the team is ready to play as well. You do that by example and he’s setting a good example.”
Another thing he hopes to add is more scoring. Last year, Seattle got just 13 goals from their midfield. If Zakuani is able to match his career high of 10 goals in 2010, that number is sure to rise at a time when the Sounders could use a scoring boost after the departure of all-time leading scorer Fredy Montero.
It’s a tall task, but Zakuani is more than up to the challenge.
“Part of my game is to chip in and help the team with goals when I can,” he said. “I’ll work hard on that and try to be a force in that sense.”