A routine in-season reserve game was transformed into something significant Sunday, because Sounders midfielder Steve Zakuani faced an opposing club for the first time since his leg injuries almost a year ago.
“It really is a good step forward,” Zakuani said. “I’ve been waiting for this day a very long time, and I’m happy. We’ll see what’s left. I’m sure they’ll have their things they want me to work on, but for me, I’m very happy.”
Zakuani played the entire first half of a 4-0 win against Gonzaga at Starfire Sports Complex in Tukwila.
Coach Sigi Schmid had asked him last week if he felt up to playing a few minutes in the match, which was arranged mostly to provide work for those who didn’t play in the team’s Major League Soccer loss to San Jose the night before.
“I thought it would be good,” Zakuani said. “I planned to go 20 minutes. But I think my first 10 (I) was a bit apprehensive because that was the first time in a year I had been playing. From minute 10 to minute 30-35, I was good. And then I got tired. So it was a good step forward. Now I’m going to kind of see how I can build on this.”
To help with that, the Sounders monitored Zakuani in terms of his running pattern, sprinting speed and recovery rate. Club trainers will use that information to tailor his training program.
However, Schmid thought there were multiple benefits to Zakuani’s participation.
“I think it was a big step psychologically,” Schmid said. “And it was a big step physically because with us being able to put the GPS system on him (it) tells us a lot of things. We can really make a good determination as to what we need to add now.”
Zakuani was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 SuperDraft, and recorded 10 goals and six assists for the Sounders in 2010.
He suffered a fractured right tibia and fibula on April 22 in a match at Colorado. His recovery was hampered by a nerve problem called compartment syndrome.
He has taken part in increasing amounts of work with his teammates this season, including some full-field game-like situations that he said helped his confidence in terms of weathering tackles from the Zags.
With that milestone passed, he again looks ahead.
“I’m really now pushing toward those final stages,” he said. “I’ve played in MLS for two years and a bit: I’m under no illusions at the level that it is to be able to get back there. This is good, but still I’m going to keep it in perspective and realistic that there’s still a long way to go in terms of being ready to play an actual game. But it’s a good step forward.”
Forward Eddie Johnson (hip) also played longer than expected in the reserve game. After working comfortably into the second half, he expressed hope that he might return to the 18-man roster for the game at D.C. United on Saturday. Johnson was one of the Sounders’ goal-scorers Sunday, along with Alex Caskey, Cordell Cato and non-roster player Daniel Steres. The club announced that rookie forward Babayele Sodade will have surgery to repair a torn ACL. Schmid said defender Jhon Kennedy Hurtado (pelvis) is improving and could return to full duty soon. The club is off today before resuming training Tuesday at Starfire.