Steve Zakuani

Steve Zakuani sits down to discuss upcoming Zak & Friends Charity Match, #Project50

Former Seattle Sounders midfielder Steve Zakuani will host his third annual Steve Zakuani and Friends charity match on Sunday, July 2, from 6 p.m.-8:30 p.m. PT at Starfire Sports in Tukwila. Tickets are available here and start at $25. caught up with Zakuani to talk about his charity match, some of the notable athletes who will be featured this year and his dedication to providing scholarships to young athletes. Note: This Q&A has been edited and shortened for clarity.

Why did you want to start a charity match?

In 2015, myself and everyone at Kingdom Hope were planning a charity dinner. In the middle of planning that, I just thought it would be much easier for us to do something with football because that’s the world we come from. It’s huge here in Seattle, I already have a lot of contacts and support in that world and probably can raise the money we’d raise from a fundraising dinner by just doing a game. I felt that the game actually gives people more than just something like, ‘Hey, come to a dinner and sit down and hear us talk about our cause and donate money,’ which is fine, but for us it was more, ‘Can we do a really unique experience of a game and have people see something that they don’t normally see played and don’t normally see played in Seattle and then raise money that way?’ This is our third one coming up, so it’s been a good decision so far.

What have the previous two years’ experiences been like?

In 2015, we really only had about two months to plan the whole thing from when the idea was conceived. We had a lot of help from the Seattle Reign and they provided a bunch of players for us, and Laura Harvey coached. We also had a lot of help from the Sounders. We had one team wear Rave Green and one team wore Seattle Reign jerseys. Brian Schmetzer played in that game. I leaned heavily on a lot of my former teammates to get it done. People came out and it was a really cool event. It was just the inaugural one to get our feet wet and know what to do and what not to do.

The second game we had a lot more time to plan. I didn’t want to just have it be just me and my former teammates, so we reached out and that’s when we had Landon Donovan, Dwayne De Rosario and Jimmy Conrad. We had some really high-level former national team players and MLS guys. I still tried to have enough of my former Sounders teammates with me just because I wanted to give the fans a chance to see them, but I really began to branch out and invite guys that really hadn’t played together or here in Seattle in front of these fans especially at Starfire.

I think it was good for the people to see the likes of Landon down there and some of the guys who were here last year. The first years have been great. We definitely grew from year one to year two, and it’s already looking like the third year is going to be the biggest one yet.

What does it mean to you to have the support from other players especially guys like Landon Donovan?

It’s crazy, everybody’s really gotten behind it. It began for me at the top of the club that I affiliated with, the Sounders, from owner Adrian Hanauer down, I have that support. When you think that the head coach of the Sounders, my first game he played in it, and last year he coached.

I talked to Landon quite a bit. We wanted to get him here again this year, but he’s having his second baby around that time so it makes sense for him to stay home. Jimmy Conrad and Dwayne De Rosario, who I’m a big fan of, even people that I played with that I don’t take for granted like Eddie Johnson, come back every year. Everyone is really supportive every time I text them or call them or email them and reach out, if that date works for them, then they’re all on board.

What is your favorite part of the event?

For me personally, it’s getting to play with guys that I’ve wanted to play with. I’ve never played with Landon. I’ve played against Landon in 2009, we had some good battles with those Galaxy teams back then, but we’ve shared the same agent my whole career, but I never got to play with him. Last year playing with him was a great experience. For me, it’s a chance to share the pitch with Dwayne De Rosario, people like that.

The best thing about the event is getting to do something unique in Seattle. It’s down at Starfire, a place I’m very familiar with, a place I used to go to every single day. Now we’re getting a lot of fundraising support for our cause in the community, but in return we’re putting on a pretty cool event. Last year, we had Steven Hauschka out there and having him take a penalty kick and score and doing something like that. This year, we’ll have Marshawn Lynch and we have something special lined up for him to do at the game this year. You don’t get to see that [often]. You don’t get to see the crossover between sports, you don’t get to see the mix of players who are there.

What is your relationship like with Marshawn Lynch and Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson? How did their appearances come to fruition?

I've known Chad [Johnson] because we tried to get him here last year. I’ve always known he was a huge soccer fan. In the lockout in the NFL in 2011, he was training with Sporting Kansas City. He’s been around. He tried to come to the game in 2016, and he had some issues, but we stayed in touch. I’ll text him every now and then. It came up a few weeks ago, we were talking and this event came up again, and he said, ‘Yeah, I definitely want to be there.’ We got him situated right away. It’s a growing relationship just through soccer, he really likes the sport and he really wants to come to Seattle and be a part of it. I know he’s excited about coming this year.

Marshawn and I have mutual friends, who know him really well and know me really well. When I put the word out, it was instant, he said, ‘I want to be a part of it. I want to come up there.’ It’s exciting to have someone like that coming back to Seattle for this event.

What can you tell us about #Project50?

This is something that we’re really excited about. You can put a game on and say it’s going to fundraising for a few things. What we’ve done now as a team at Kingdom Hope is simplify it and say, ‘Look, in the next five years, what’s a realistic but ambitious goal of scholarships we can give out?’ And we said 50. This project is going to be called #Project50, and we’re playing the game now with the funds going directly to that.

The goal is to raise the funds to award 50 scholarships in the next five years. We’re going to be unveiling more information about it as the game gets closer. We’ll put information on our website about which scholarships we’re going to be funding, the cost of those scholarships and how we plan to do it.

#Project50 is why the game is being played. The game is fun, but the reason for the game is to raise funds for scholarships. These are in education and in soccer. We’ve done several over the years, but now we’re really zeroing in on a hard number that we want to do in a challenging time.

Why scholarships? What significance does giving those out have for you?

At age 14, I was signed to Arsenal’s academy. I was convinced I was going to play professionally, if not at Arsenal then somewhere in England. At age 15, I stole a motorcycle, had an accident and two knee surgeries later I didn’t get a contract. The way I became a pro was by coming to the United States on a scholarship. It was something that I never knew was possible. I fell into it. I ended up at Akron on a scholarship and that was my back door into the professional soccer world.

A lot of kids are talented in education or soccer, but don’t have the means to afford it. I was fortunate enough to have the soccer ability to get a scholarship from Akron, but that helping hand from that university is what put me in a position to even be where I am today and experience all the amazing things I was able to experience as a professional soccer player. I always wanted to just give kids the opportunity. I’ve been to some places back in Africa with some of the kids we’ve helped there. I’ve been in their homes and seen some of the humble situations they’re living in and some of those kids now who we’ve paid for to attend university and they’re getting engineering degrees and all kinds of great stuff.

For kids here in Washington, club soccer is quite expensive. Growing up in England, you go find a team and you play. You don’t really pay anything. But it’s expensive here, it’s different. Helping kids who have the ability but can’t really afford it, or it’s a strain on their family to afford it, we can help them with that. I was a beneficiary of a scholarship that turned my life around and helped my dreams come true. So in any way we can help as many kids as possible, we’re going to try to do that.



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