Steve Zakuani has been put through the ringer in the last three years with injuries and rehabs, setbacks and comebacks.
On a difficult night for Sounders FC in a 4-1 loss to Vancouver Whitecaps FC on Wednesday, he provided a bright spot as he moved a giant step closer to putting all of those struggles in his rearview mirror when he returned to the field for the first time in five months. Now he is aiming to contribute what he can to Seattle’s late-season push with plenty still on the table in the final three matches.
“I’ve been playing long enough with this team and in this league to know what to expect and what it takes,” Zakuani said after playing 11 minutes in his first game back from sports hernia surgery. “Just getting over that initial hurdle, which I did today, at this point now I’m just thinking forward and trying to be available for the next few games and into playoffs.”
Zakuani has been in full training with Seattle for a month and was nearing a return on Saturday against the Colorado Rapids, but a minor setback delayed that return.
While setbacks of that nature may be difficult to reconcile, the 25-year-old midfielder has kept perspective on the big picture.
“I’m going to have those ups and downs, in general, but my overall trajectory is up,” Zakuani said. “We’ll see how it responds (Thursday) and after that, I’ll just keep doing what I’ve been doing. There’s not many games left. I just have to get where I can at this point.”
While he received a hearty cheer from the crowd of 38,833 at CenturyLink Field, the moment was not one of melancholy.
Zakuani had his comeback moment last year, when he subbed into a July match against Colorado, some 15 months since his leg was catastrophically shattered against that same Rapids team in April of 2011. This time around, after a five-month absence because of sports hernia surgery, the only thing on his mind was helping the team in a tough situation.
“When I came into the game we were 3-1 down, so I was just thinking like every other player on the pitch on our team—just trying to find a way back into the game. There was no nostalgia. It was nothing about my first game back. It was just about trying to come in and try to give the team a lift,” he said. “Obviously we fell short. Like every other player in this group, I’m just focused now on Sunday, trying to put this behind us as quickly as possible.”
Zakuani has 17 goals and 14 assists in 79 career matches. After posting four goals and four assists as a rookie in 2009, he had a breakthrough season in 2010 with 10 goals and six assists. His bursts of speed up the left wing did wonders to stretch opposing defenses and he was a rising star before his injury in 2011.
He is looking to regain that form and deepen Seattle’s attack as the Sounders continue the chase for the Cascadia Cup, a playoff spot and the Supporters’ Shield in the final three matches.
“I feel ok and it only gets better from here,” he said. “If I’m available for Sunday, then I’ll be good. I won’t think about it much anymore.”