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Originally published Friday, January 16, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Sounders FC takes Steve Zakuani with No. 1 draft pick

Seattle Sounders FC emerged from Thursday's MLS SuperDraft with its first-ever draft class, the four selections highlighted by forward Steve Zakuani of Akron, the first overall pick of the draft.

Seattle Times staff reporter

The most identifiable thing Steve Zakuani said he knew about Seattle was that the weather is similar to that of his hometown, London.

Zakuani is about to learn quite a bit more after Sounders FC made him the first pick of Thursday's Major League Soccer SuperDraft, held in St. Louis.

The high-scoring, speedy forward, who was born in central Africa, raised in England and played two stellar seasons at the University of Akron before making himself draft eligible after his sophomore season, headlined Sounders FC's inaugural draft class. Seattle also chose defender Evan Brown from Wake Forest in the second round, defender Jared Karkas from Azusa Pacific in the third round and midfielder-forward Michael Fucito from Harvard in the fourth and final round.

"I'm ready for the Sounders," Zakuani said. "I've been telling people all week that this is probably the team I would want to go to the most because they're a new team and it's going to be a good match to be part of something brand new."

The 20-year-old is already under contract to MLS, which signs players on behalf of teams. His 20 goals in 2008 and big-play capability were too much for Seattle to pass up or trade, even though Sounders FC coach Sigi Schmid said Zakuani didn't shine at the recent MLS player combine.

Schmid was able to get a look at Zakuani while he was head coach at Columbus of MLS in Ohio, and Zakuani was playing in the same state.

"Having had the opportunity to see him in competitive situations where he's had to respond to challenges and has to come up with key moments and make something happen in the game and make an impact in the game, I was confident he's got those abilities," Schmid said.

Sounders FC general manager Adrian Hanauer said Zakuani has the potential to be a star.

"He's got all the tools, a great pedigree, grew up in the Arsenal [English Premier League club] youth system, obviously had a very good college career and we think has the potential to be very explosive and a very exciting player," Hanauer said.

The addition of Brown and Karkas bolstered Seattle's defense. Sounders FC came into the draft loaded with midfielders and short on forwards and defenders.

Brown, whom his college coach compared to MLS and U.S. national team star defender Frankie Hejduk, could have a role on offense as an attacking right fullback, Schmid said. Karkas, a small-college find whose left foot will be an asset, can also play on the outsides at defender.

Fucito is another left-footer whom Schmid asked if he was certain he wanted to pursue a career in pro soccer despite his Harvard education.

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"He goes, 'Expletive yes!' " Schmid said of Fucito's reaction to being drafted. "So I think he's into it.

"I think we were able to get attacking players, attacking defending players to give ourselves cover on the flanks and also be able to pick up a special player [Zakuani], which is always great."

Zakuani, the only draftee under contract, and Brown are expected to report to training camp by either the first day, Wednesday, or soon after.

The other two players have school commitments so their report dates are undefined. Hanauer said he doesn't expect signing Brown, Karkas and Fucito to be an issue.

As a Generation Adidas underclassman player, Zakuani fits into Seattle's salary cap as a developmental player, which will save the club money. He's a virtual lock to make the final 24-man roster, which is comprised of 20 regular players and four developmentals. The other three draft picks will be in competition for spots.

Note

• Former University of Washington players George John and Raphael Cox were drafted Thursday, the fifth straight year in which at least one Husky has been drafted by MLS. John, a midfielder from Shoreline, went to FC Dallas with the 14th overall pick in the first round, and Cox, a midfielder from Tacoma, went to Real Salt Lake in the fourth round with the 54th overall pick.

José Miguel Romero: 206-464-2409 or jromero@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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