Two years had passed since the last time Steve Zakuani stepped foot on the grass pitch at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colo.
Those two years that have been the most difficult and most rewarding all at once after he has recovered from a fractured tibia and fibula - and the subsequent compartment syndrome - suffered after a tackle by Brian Mullan on April 22, 2011 in a match against the Colorado Rapids.
While the injury and rehabilitation have been strenuous, Zakuani is back on the field now, having started all six league matches in 2013 and on Saturday, he made his return to the site of that horrific injury on Saturday when the Sounders topped the Rapids 1-0 for their first win of the 2013 season.
“I’ve been saying for a long time that I’m pretty much back, but to come here and play here brings it full circle,” Zakuani said. “It was emotional at times, but I felt that I was able to contribute in the way that I try to always do and try to get the team a win without that getting in the way.”
Zakuani noted that his return to Colorado was the most emotional he has ever been during a match, particularly one point early in the game when a pocket of Rapids fans began chanting his name.
It was a sure sign of support from those opposing fans as he put the hard work that got him back on the field on display on the very field where his career was nearly lost.
“I’ve always said that the fans around the league were great to me. Seattle was No. 1 and Colorado was No. 2. Their fans responded greatly,” he said. “It was great to come back in front of them and even better to leave with three points.”
In the week leading up to the match, Zakuani made mention that he most looked forward to returning to Denver for the opportunity to thank the nurses that helped him in the immediate aftermath, however, he could not track down the primary nurse who cared for him.
On the field, he sparred throughout the match with Mullan and while Zakuani held brief advantages in the dual with his Colorado counterpart, who has since converted from midfield to right back, Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid ruled it a draw in the end.
“I thought Steve did alright. He had a couple of good runs where he got behind Brian a couple of times in the second half, but after that I think the two of them sort of negated each other,” Schmid said.
Zakuani finished out the 2012 season with one goal and one assist in eight matches, four of them in a starting role. However, he wasn’t truly back to his full form until starting in a playoff match against the LA Galaxy on November 18. In that match, he played 81 minutes and completed 31 of 40 passes while setting up two goal-scoring chances.
Already in 2013, he has played 468 minutes in six starts for Seattle, already surpassing his 2012 total of 320 and 2011 total of 453 minutes.