24 Under 24: #4 Steve Zakuani (Seattle Sounders)

For the second day in a row, a No. 1 overall selection in the MLS SuperDraft breaks into the 24 Under 24 Top 5. After 2010 top pick Danny Mwanga (No. 5), it’s time for his 2009 counterpart, Seattle winger Steve Zakuani, who comes in at No. 4.

Road to Stardom: Zakuani had the best early preparation for a successful soccer career as a member of Arsenal’s teams in England. He moved to the USA to join the University of Akron in 2007 and in his sophomore season he was the nation’s top scorer and a Hermann Trophy finalist. The Sounders made him their No. 1 pick shortly thereafter in January 2009.

Breakout Moment: After a solid 2009 rookie year, Seattle manager Sigi Schmid wanted more production out of his left winger with a better final pass and less predictable attacking runs. Zakuani has delivered with the signature moment coming on July 25 against Colorado. Zakuani’s brace inside the first 17 minutes won the match and earned him Player of the Week honors for the first time.

Player Breakdown: Speed. That’s the single characteristic that stands out about Zakuani and sometimes his technique is overlooked because of it. When given space to run at defenders, he is deadly. His improvement this year is evident with his four goals and four assists from 2009 giving way to nine goals and five assists thus far in 2010.

What the Technical Directors Say: “He’s put a bunch of goals in the back of the net this year … He’s got the pace, he can get around guys and use his right foot, also decent with his left … Look for more consistency when he gets to the end line and has to use his left foot to pick out guys and make passes. He can get there quite often, it’s a matter of what happens at the end of it … Needs to work on being a factor for the entire 90 minutes.”

What’s Next: On a team that features MVP candidate Fredy Montero, Kasey Keller and Designated Player Blaise Nkufo, it may be hard at times for Zakuani to stand out. He is still only 22 but he needs to be able to dominate matches on a more regular basis. Like Mwanga, he could soon face an international decision between his native Congo and the future prospect of the US national team.

Check back on Wednesday as the No. 3 player in the 24 Under 24 is unveiled.

What is the 24 Under 24? Simply, the best 24 players in MLS under the age of 24 (as of Nov. 1, 2010).

MLSsoccer.com whittled down the list to a group of 30 players and then an expert panel ranked the names based on five categories: (1) Skill; (2) Upside; (3) Q-Rating or Marketability; (4) Future Value; and (5) Intangibles.

The “24 Under 24” expert panel was made up of six members: Jeff Carlisle (ESPN.com), Steve Davis (SI.com), Brian Dunseth (Fox Soccer Channel), Allen Hopkins (ESPN), Alexi Lalas (ESPN) and the MLSsoccer.com editorial staff.

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4.Zakuani, SteveF


MLS Technical Directors Say: “He’s got the pace, he can get around guys and use his right foot, also decent with his left … Look for more consistency when he gets to the end line and has to use his left foot to pick out guys and make passes … Needs to work on being a factor for the entire 90 minutes.”

5.Mwanga, DannyF


MLS Technical Directors Say: “He has the potential to be one of the best strikers in the league … Off the ball running and finishing are much better than anticipated … He’s composed in front of goal, he can strike the ball well … He needs to work on his passing and getting others involved in the game.”

6.Pappa, MarcoM


MLS Technical Directors Say: “Really technical with great skill … Has good vision for the game and he can find a splitting pass and can change a game getting by a guy … He’s not going to run you up and down … Plays a lot older than his age … If he played more defense he’d be a more effective player and he’d be around the ball more often and in position more often to take advantage of quick breaks.”

7.Shea, BrekM


MLS Technical Directors Say: “Great size, good engine and brave with the ball … Very good technical ability especially for his height … He’s matured in a comfortable environment, you’re seeing the talent blossom … Having more of an impact on games … Big and fast and left-footed and attacking. You’d kill for that package in anybody, anywhere at any age.”

8.Johnson, SeanGK


MLS Technical Directors Say: “His athleticism in terms of being a shot-stopper is very good. Where he’s going to need to show improvement is the tactical end with his positioning and when to come out of the goal … With more experience will learn to read the game, direct his back line and know positionally where to be when the ball is in different parts of the field.”

9.Ream, TimD


MLS Technical Directors Say: “Composed and good in the air … Comfortable on the ball, a very good passer of the ball and a playmaker out of the back … The mistakes he’s made they don’t live with him. … Needs to improve on ability to turn and make quicker decisions … Has to smell danger and learn to whack balls up the field when he needs to and not make passes that aren’t there.”

10.Braun, JustinF


MLS Technical Directors Say: “He’s got a great body for the position as a target forward … Very active and very good in the air and once you get him going forward … Needs to improve on erratic finishing, playing with his back to goal and getting his teammates involved with the passing … He’s a young kid and has a lot of upside.”

11.Opara, IkeD


MLS Technical Directors Say: "He is still raw but an excellent athlete ... Tremendous upside ... can dominate in the air, good timing in the air ... He's able to outrun mistakes ... From a man-marking situation few can physically beat him ... Needs to work on ability to play out of tight spaces, make passes and make quick decisions."

12.Smith, RyanM


MLS Technical Directors Say: "Talented player, technically gifted with both feet, has pace, the ability to serve balls on the run … Needs to find some kind of consistency to be regarded as an elite player in this league … Has 50 different moves on the dribble … Needs to find when the best time to dribble and when the best time to find a teammate."

13.Bowen, TristanF


MLS Technical Directors Say: "He’s got a lot of good tools … Very good athlete and technically better than people give him credit. He can take people off the dribble. He’s a good finisher with both feet … Needs to get better with his head and holding the ball up… He’s going to be a very solid MLS player."

14.Hamid, BillGK


MLS Technical Directors Say: “He’s clearly got the tools and he seems to have got some poise … He can be a really successful goalkeeper in this league for a long time if he can get healthy and stay healthy. Young guys have persistent injury problems.”

15.Rogers, RobbieM


MLS Technical Directors Say: “He’s left-footed, he has pace and he’s American. These are players to be celebrated … Needs to be tougher and defend more … He’s one of those players that will stretch a defense. He has a good engine … He needs to demand the ball a little bit more and get more involved in 90 minutes.”

16.Tchani, TonyM


MLS Technical Directors Say: "Tchani is still very raw ... One of the best players in college last year. An amazing athlete. Huge, massive upside. Almost unlimited potential but he is not very polished which is normal for a kid at that age."

17.Bunbury, TealF


MLS Technical Directors Say: "He’s got the size, the physicality. He’s better than some in terms of technical abilities and he’s got some more size. And he’s probably got some more pace than most guys ... It needs to be consistency with him around the goal area. He’s got the tools physically and technically. He’s above average."

18.Pontius, ChrisF


MLS Technical Directors Say: "In our league he’s got to be a forward ... You want him in and around the goal to profit from that athleticism and ability in the air. For a young player, he’s a decent finisher which is relatively rare. He’s a prototypical college player in that he’s a tremendous overall athlete and he works really hard."

19."Juninho"M


The Brazilian is a vital cog for the Galaxy, pulling the strings in central midfield and jumpstarting their deadly counter. He reads the game well and has a knack of being in the right place at the right time. He’s not the strongest and most imposing of central players but his presence is felt as LA can attest during his recent absence.

20.Johnson, WillM


MLS Technical Directors Say: "A fantastic player, he’s got a great engine. Technically very good. He’s a fantastic two-way player, one of the best in the league even though he’s a young player from an age standpoint ... He needs to be a little bit more productive on the attacking side of the ball: assists and goals ... You’re looking for an 8-and-8 guy. His production needs to be better."

21.Alston, KevinD


MLS Technical Directors Say: “Has very good concentration, he’s brave and he has elite athleticism … He can get forward with that athleticism but he needs to refine his game in the attacking third in his one-v-one play and his combination play … he needs a little more consistency on his final pass.”

22.McInerney, JackF


MLS Technical Directors Say: “Like his mentality. He’s always busy, always in motion … His size is a factor but he makes up for it with this work rate and his ability in the air … His finishing is very good … He needs to manage his own expectations and he’ll find his way in MLS.”

23.Torres, RogerM

The young Colombian wowed fans with his ball skills early on, but he has since lost his place in the Union starting lineup and has become an occasional sub. He possesses superior vision and technique but there are doubts whether his speed and physique can meet the demands of MLS.

24.McCarty, DaxM


A full 2010 season may have bumped up McCarty’s place in the rankings. After a promising start in central midfield alongside Daniel Hernandez, he fell to a quad injury and now has an uphill battle just to regain his spot in the FCD starting lineup.

 

 


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