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Sounders look for Zakuani to lead

Tue., Feb. 12, 2013

Double leg fracture has slowed him since 2011

TUKWILA, Wash. – Gone are the weekly benchmarks, when Steve Zakuani would measure his recovery progress every Friday after a devastating leg injury.

His Twitter account? Inactive.

Recording music in the studio? Not any more.

“It’s just football,” he said.

A simple statement, but one that has been a long time coming.

For the better part of two years, the story for the Sounders FC midfielder has been about the injury, recovery and comeback.

Zakuani, who turned 25 on Saturday, suffered a double leg fracture on April 22, 2011, in a road game against the Colorado Rapids. Worse yet was a complication called compartment syndrome, which resulted in nerve damage and a significantly longer recovery that went deep into the 2012 season.

Last year, tangible signs of progress were tracked over the many months, from his first practice game, to his first reserve game, to his first substitute appearance, to his first start, to his first goal – all since the injury.

And this year?

“I don’t want any kind of distractions and stuff,” said Zakuani, who claims to be in the best shape of his career after working with fitness coach Dave Tenney in the offseason.

“Let’s just focus on football. That’s something I said to myself – to kind of give my all to the team. I think it’s going to help me in the long run because I’m going to be really focused.”

Zakuani is Seattle’s leading scorer among active players after the loan of forward Fredy Montero to Colombia’s Millonarios.

Seventeen career MLS goals, despite missing so much time, is a sign of what the dynamic midfielder can bring at his best. He scored 10 goals in 2010 and proved to be perhaps the most goal-dangerous outside midfielder in the league.

A meteoric rise was stunted by the injury, but 2013 is the year to start getting back to that level, and Zakuani will have to play a vital role for the Sounders, now without their all-time leading scorer.

“I think this, for Steve, is a very important season,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “Our fans, I know they saw him last year when he came on and played some games, but we haven’t really seen him for two years now. We need to see the Steve Zakuani that we saw in 2010.”

“I’m excited by his attitude and by his enthusiasm as he comes in each day to practice, because I think his enthusiasm affects a lot of the other guys on the team,” the coach said.

“He’s always been a great individual player, and Steve has always made sure he’s prepared, but there’s a little bit of a shift where he feels a little more of a responsibility to make sure that the team is ready to play, as well. You do that by example, and he’s setting a good example.”

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