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Originally published Sunday, March 18, 2012 at 7:39 PM

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Zakuani finds the waiting difficult

Having to watch Saturday's MLS opener was difficult for Sounders FC's Steve Zakuani, but a lot is coming easier to the midfielder in the final stages of his recovery from a broken leg and related complications

Seattle Times staff reporter

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TUKWILA — Steve Zakuani wants to cheer on his team, but it's not always easy.

Nearly a year has passed since the Sounders FC midfielder had his leg broken in Colorado last April. A serious complication called compartment syndrome and some resulting nerve damage prolonged the rehabilitation. Even as Zakuani nears the final stages of recovery, the games are still hard to watch.

"It's maybe even worse, because you want to play," he said.

Everything during Saturday's MLS opener against Toronto FC was a reminder to Zakuani that he can't yet return to the game he loves: the loyal fans packing CenturyLink Field, the pregame march to the match, the team band, even the national anthems.

"That's not going to get easy, I don't think, until I can play," said the 24-year-old. "I support from kind of a distance, and obviously I'm with the guys every day, and we all want the team to do well, but on the individual side of it I don't find it easy at all."

Fortunately, Zakuani is finding a lot of things easier from a physical standpoint.

Even though he's not 100 percent where he was preinjury (by his admission), Zakuani's leg continues to get stronger and these days he's essentially training without restriction. During Sunday's practice he wowed some spectators with a skillful step-over move to set up a shot — and it's not an uncommon sight.

With confidence growing, Zakuani said he's on track for an MLS return in July or August. Coach Sigi Schmid recently suggested that he could possibly play in a reserve game at the end of the April.

Said Zakuani: "I could barely jog or train (last summer) and now I'm playing with the guys — that's obviously great progress. That makes me happy, but you want more. I'm still pushing to get back to where I need to be. I'm getting there slowly."

On the field, he's getting places quickly. According to the Sounders' new GPS tracking system, Zakuani's top speeds in practice are very close to what they were at full strength.

To continue the final phase of recovery, Schmid said he wants to put Zakuani into more competitive situations, "eventually against opposition, where guys aren't going to be as protective of him."

Schmid also wants to play Zakuani more on a big field, instead of small-sided scrimmages, and also see those high-speed moments more frequently.

"That one burst is there," the coach said, "but then how long does he need to recover to have that burst again? That's what we're trying to cut down on is that recovery time. Once he can do that ... then we'll know he's close to being back."

NOTE

• Forward Eddie Johnson (hip) was able to jog Sunday but is still expected to be out another couple weeks, according to Schmid. Midfielder Mauro Rosales had some swelling in his right knee after Saturday's game and will be evaluated further Monday.

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