Sounders' Zakuani still has steps to take in his recovery
One year after his devastating injury, Sounders FC's Steve Zakuani remains encouraged by his progress. The rigors of rehab, however, will prevent him from playing in Monday's MLS Reserve League game at Chivas USA.
Seattle Times staff reporter
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TUKWILA — One entire year.
That's how long it's been since Sounders FC's Steve Zakuani suffered a devastating leg injury on a tackle by Colorado midfielder Brian Mullan. The emotional 12 months since have been filled with medical treatment, grueling rehab and, most important, significant progress.
So how does Zakuani feel about his recovery upon Sunday's anniversary of that life-changing moment?
"I'm happy to an extent, but at the same time I have inside me the desire to get back to my full level," he said.
"It is good progress. I'm happy. A year ago was obviously the roughest day of my life, but I'm here, I'm standing, so I'm happy. I still have a lot of work to do, a lot of pushing to do. ... It was a really horrific injury. To get back to a high level is not easy, and I'm trying to do that."
Zakuani was hoping for tangible proof of his progress Monday by playing in an 11 a.m. MLS Reserve League game against Chivas USA. The 24-year-old, however, is still recovering from a demanding fitness regimen last week and didn't make the trip to Los Angeles. He pulled himself out of practice Sunday after feeling a little pain, but it was nothing beyond what is common during a challenging recovery.
"That's how rehab goes," he said, admitting he had looked forward to Monday's game for several days. "You go up a bit, then you plateau, then you go up a bit again. I've been pushing the last couple of weeks and (the pain) is just a reaction to that. It's bad timing."
Playing in an official MLS Reserve League game — as opposed to an intersquad scrimmage or a training game versus a college team — is the logical next step in Zakuani's eventual return, which is expected to come later this season.
Many can't wait, and not just those in Seattle.
Los Angeles Galaxy stars Landon Donovan and David Beckham are among those across the league who have offered support and encouragement.
"It means a lot sometimes when you have that from those kind of players because it does motivate me," Zakuani said. "I used to enjoy playing against L.A., and I used to enjoy playing against those kind of players and challenging myself."
Coach Sigi Schmid said the team has established training plans for Zakuani in two- or three-week intervals. Because the Sounders don't have another Reserve League game until June 1, they might try to schedule some kind of game before then. Getting minutes on the field at the highest level possible will be key for Zakuani in the next couple months.
"He has made a lot of steps forward, so now he's got to take those final steps," Schmid said. "And those final steps at the end may become a little steeper."
• Zakuani wasn't quite able to meet face-to-face with Mullan after last week's Sounders-Rapids game in Seattle, but he remains hopeful of setting up a meeting to get some closure on the incident that will tie them "together forever." Zakuani also praised all parties involved for how they handled the emotions surrounding Mullan's return to Seattle.
"I think he handled it well," Zakuani said of Mullan.
• Defender Marc Burch (hamstring) and goalkeeper Michael Gspurning (illness) have been held out of full training the past couple of days, but Schmid said each should be OK.
Joshua Mayers: 206-464-3184 or firstname.lastname@example.org