Zakuani's return to bench gives Sounders huge lift

Steve Zakuani

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SEATTLE – Steve Zakuani has never felt so good about playing zero minutes.

Although the Seattle Sounders midfielder did not play during Wednesday’s 1-1 draw with Sporting Kansas City, he made his first appearance on the bench since suffering a horrific leg break on April 22, 2011.

“It was a good experience for me to get that taste today,” Zakuani told reporters. “It would have been nice to get in, but I think the way the game went probably it was smart not to. Like I said, I’m feeling a lot more part of the team with that kind of step forward. It’s good. It’s good. It was a huge step forward.”

Zakuani has been making steady progress to this point for several months. His most significant step was playing the first half of a Reserve League game on June 1, and he has almost always been a full participant in training ever since.

Zakuani said Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid first approached him about the idea of playing on Tuesday.

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“I said, ‘I’d love to,’” Zakuani recalled. “It’s just how the game goes. If the team was winning 3-0, and I come on in the 80th minute, that would have been the perfect scenario. But it wasn’t to be. Like everybody else, I was on my toes and ready to go. It didn’t happen. It’s not a disappointment. I understand the decision, of course. It was a great taste for me and I’m going to go home really happy.”

Schmid said he seriously considered letting Zakuani make his MLS return, but that the way the game unfolded was not really conducive to that. The right scoreline was just part of why Schmid opted to keep Zakuani out.

“One of the reasons I didn’t come with him was because of the physical nature of the game,” Schmid said. “The referee wasn’t really protecting players and I didn’t think that was a good environment to throw him into in the first game.”

The appearance of Zakuani, even if only in warm-ups, seemed to provide a boost to his teammates, as well.

“That’s the biggest story of the night honestly,” said Patrick Ianni, one of Zakuani’s closest friends on the team, and the player whose stunning strike earned Seattle a share of the points. “It’s so good to have him back with the team. I’m so excited to have him back. He’s such a good guy in the locker room and to see him recover so quickly from a devastating injury, to see him even walking is huge and to be out here playing and the coaches thinking he can contribute is awesome.”

Having Zakuani make his return in front of Sounders fans would be an unquestionably special moment. As hopeful as Zakuani is that it happen that way, he’s understandably much more focused on just getting back on the field.

“Wherever it is I’ll be happy to do it – if it’s 10 minutes, if it’s five minutes, if it’s 45 minutes, I don’t mind,” he said. “I’m just working my way back. I’m going to need games at some point, just to play more and more games until I feel comfortable again.”

Jeremiah Oshan covers the Seattle Sounders for MLSsoccer.com and SB Nation.