Big step forward: Sounders' Zakuani shows flashes of skills in reserve game
Almost a year after suffering a devastating leg injury, Sounders FC midfielder Steve Zakuani played his first minutes against competition Sunday in a reserve game against Gonzaga.
Seattle Times staff reporter
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TUKWILA — For Steve Zakuani, a bloody lower lip was another sign of progress.
The Sounders FC midfielder started and played 45 minutes in a reserve game Sunday against Gonzaga University, marking the first time in nearly a year that he had played against competition. Amid a long recovery from a broken leg and related complications, the bumps and bruises of playing against an opponent represented a huge step forward.
"I've been waiting for this day for a very long time, and I'm just happy," said Zakuani, who suffered the devastating injury on April 22, 2011.
After consulting with coach Sigi Schmid last week, the initial plan was for Zakuani to play 20 minutes Sunday. When that time elapsed and no one on the bench said anything, he played on.
"They kind of forgot," the 24-year-old said with his trademark smile.
Zakuani said he felt apprehensive in his first 10 minutes, but got comfortable in the next 20 to 25, showing flashes of his speed and skill against the Bulldogs' defense. He was admittedly tired for the final 10 minutes of the half.
Schmid said Zakuani's participation helped him cross a psychological barrier and also was important physically. Due to a GPS tracking system the Sounders use, fitness coach Dave Tenney will be able to break down the data from Zakuani's movements.
"It should give us a really good reading based on the type of running he did in terms of where we need to supplement his training and get him ready for the next step," said Schmid.
Zakuani, while encouraged, was also realistic about the improvement he still needs to make. He's entering the final stages of recovery but knows there's a large gap between playing 45 minutes against a college team and returning to MLS action.
It was hard to contain excitement, however, as Sunday brought him a big step closer to the dynamic and entertaining player he is known to be.
Said Zakuani: "I still know how to play, I still have the same brain I had before, it's just a matter of letting my body catch up to where my mind is and I think it's starting to do that."
Johnson nears return
Sounders FC forward Eddie Johnson played about 60 minutes Sunday to inch closer to his first MLS action this season. The 28-year-old has been recovering from a hip injury and working on building his fitness; he's hopeful of being on the 18-man squad for Saturday's game at D.C. United.
"It was good to get out there, run around, put myself in some good positions and play how I would've played if I came onto a real game," said Johnson. "I felt good. The most important thing right now is to get a good week of training with the team."
Added Schmid: "It was a positive day for him."
• The Sounders beat Gonzaga, 4-0, at a rainy and windy Starfire Sports Complex. The goals were scored by midfielder Alex Caskey, Johnson, forward/midfielder Cordell Cato and nonroster guest player Daniel Steres. Goalkeepers Andrew Weber and Bryan Meredith combined for the shutout.
• The team confirmed Sunday that Babayele Sodade tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee last week while serving with Canada's Olympic qualifying team. The rookie forward will undergo surgery soon and probably be placed on the disabled list. Standard recovery from an ACL tear is six to nine months, meaning it's unlikely Sodade will play again this season.
• Rookie defender Andrew Duran has been medically cleared after undergoing knee surgery four weeks ago.
• Jhon Kennedy Hurtado has shown improvement since leaving Saturday's 1-0 loss to San Jose at halftime with a pelvic injury.
Joshua Mayers: 206-464-3184 or email@example.com
On Twitter: @joshuamayers