Midfielder Steve Zakuani’s long journey back is down to its final step: playing in a Major League Soccer game.
That almost happened Wednesday, when Zakuani appeared on the Seattle Sounders FC game-day roster for the first time in more than a year.
If Zakuani’s return comes in the next game, it will happen not only on the road, but also in the hyper-hostile environment of Portland on Sunday.
And that would be all right with him.
“I just want to play football,” Zakuani said. “It could be away, it could be at home; it doesn’t really matter. Of course it would be nice to be at home in front of the fans to get that first comeback out of the way. But wherever it is I’ll be happy to do it – if it’s 10 minutes, if it’s five minutes, if it’s 45 minutes. I’m just working my way back. I’m going to need games at some point, just to play more and more games until I feel comfortable again.”
Even at that, Zakuani acknowledged that he heard – and appreciated – the fans who welcomed him back Wednesday, when the Sounders played to a 1-1 draw with Sporting Kansas City at CenturyLink Field.
“Even during warm-up they were cheering my name,” he said. “When I was doing my drills in the second half on the side they were shouting encouragement. I didn’t expect anything less. And I’m sure if my number went up it would have been a different kind of sound. And when that day comes it will be great. I think the fans have been with me from Day One.”
Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said he included Zakuani on the game-day roster with the thought of playing him. However, the match turned extremely physical – especially in its final stages – and he decided against inserting Zakuani, who is recovering from a fractured right leg suffered on a reckless tackle at Colorado 14 months ago.
Zakuani said he understood.
After Wednesday’s MLS match, Schmid said he had not yet decided if the Cascadia Cup rivalry match on Portland’s artificial surface is the appropriate place for Zakuani to return.
“We’ll see how the game goes,” he said. “It’s got to be the right game to put him in for his first game back – not one where a game is turning into a very physical affair like (the Sporting K.C. game) was.”
Even after Portland, the Sounders will be on the road for three more games: a U.S. Open Cup match Tuesday at San Jose, a league match June 30 at New England, and a league match July 4 at Salt Lake. Seattle’s next home game date is July 7. The opponent will be the Colorado Rapids and Brian Mullan, the player who caused Zakuani’s injury.
In another personnel move Wednesday, goalkeeper Andrew Weber got his first start with the Sounders, replacing Bryan Meredith, who had started since No. 1 keeper Michael Gspurning went out with a hip injury on May 2.
Weber said he hopes he will remain as the starter, but Schmid stopped short of confirming that.
“We’ll go game-by-game,” Schmid said. “I think Meredith now needs to react from this, and it’s going to show his character – how he comes back, how he trains and he’s got to push Weber just like Weber pushed him.”