Zakuani prepared for any role Schmid needs on stretch run

don.ruiz@thenewstribune.comSeptember 25, 2013 

Midfielder Steve Zakuani last played for the Seattle Sounders on April 20, when they finally broke into the win column against Colorado after an 0-3-2 start.

The Sounders have gone 14-5-3 since then, but Zakuani has had to watch while sidelined with a sports hernia.

“The team’s been on a great run,” Zakuani said Tuesday after practice. “I’m happy with what we’ve done. As frustrating as it is to watch, it’s worse if the team is struggling and not winning. But they’ve done well. We’ve been winning, and that’s made it easier.”

Zakuani returned to the Sounders’ 18-man roster Saturday at Los Angeles. He didn’t play in the 1-1 draw with the Galaxy because he still isn’t near to having the kind of fitness needed to play a full game. But Sounders coach Sigi Schmid does see a role for Zakuani as Seattle heads into its final six regular-season games – beginning Sunday when the Eastern Conference-leading New York Red Bulls visit CenturyLink Field.

“We’re trying to keep him in a

really good rhythm, trying to get his strength back so he’s ready for more and more minutes,” Schmid said. “His ability right now to come off the bench and contribute 15 or 20 minutes – maybe more so – by the time we get into this weekend could be very significant for us.”

Zakuani said he is up for any role.

“If I have to be just on the 18 and not play, then it’s going to be just like it was on the weekend,” he said. “If it’s coming on at the end of the game, that’s fine. If it’s starting a game, that’s fine too. … It is the key part of the year now, and it’s a good time to get healthy.

“I can only train hard and leave the rest up to (the coaching staff).”

Zakuani was the first overall pick in Major League Soccer’s 2009 SuperDraft, and the first draft pick in the Sounders’ MLS history. He justified that high selection with 14 goals and 10 assists over his first two seasons.

However, six games – all starts – into the 2011 season, he suffered leg fractures on a reckless tackle by Colorado’s Brian Mullan. Zakuani missed more than a year in recovery before returning late last season, appearing in eight games, starting four and even scoring a goal.

He started the first six games this season but then suffered the sports hernia. Zakuani had surgery in early June and has been working his way back.

“I can never look at it as a lost year,” he said. “What I can look at it is sometimes in life you get detours you didn’t plan for. I didn’t plan to come in injured. I came in training camp pretty sharp, played the first few games of the year – I felt good – and then I suffered a muscle injury.

“I still have some pain and minor things, but not enough to stop me from playing. Whether it’s five, six games and then playoffs and all of that, there’s still enough time to come in and play.”

ADDED TIME

Designated player Clint Dempsey was kept out of practice Tuesday, still dealing with a hamstring injury that kept him out of the Galaxy game. Schmid said the forward will be held out again Wednesday, but that he could return late in the week. Dempsey hasn’t yet been ruled in or out for the match Sunday. … Forward Eddie Johnson was kept out of contact work Tuesday, and Schmid said his shoulder would be X-rayed.

don.ruiz@thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/soccer @donruiztnt

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