SEATTLE — As the substitution board went up and flashed a No. 11, Seattle Sounders defender Patrick Ianni was a little confused. He said it had been so long since he had last seen that number in action, he had almost forgotten who it belonged to.
“Then I heard the crowd and I was like, ‘Oh, here it comes,’” Ianni said.
“It” was of course the return of Steve Zakuani, who made his first appearance in nearly 15 months during the Sounders’ 2-1 win over the Colorado Rapids on Saturday. As happy as Seattlefans and teammates may have been for the win, Zakuani’s return obviously stirred some very different emotions.
“It was so loud and this sounded like 40,000 people turned into 80,000 people,” Ianni said. “I couldn’t believe it.”
WATCH: Zakuani makes his return to MLS
Understandably, Zakuani was almost overwhelmed by it all.
“The place became like a zoo,” Zakuani said. “It’s a moment that I probably have to go and watch on video just to know what happened. It was a feeling I can’t describe. All of that hard work and multiple surgeries and rehab. All of that came to a head and it was all worth it for that moment.”
From there, the night unfolded in somewhat mundane fashion. Zakuani only touched the ball three times — the first of which elicited another huge roar from the crowd. His best chance to put a real storybook ending on his comeback was when Fredy Montero spotted him as Zakuani got a step on his defender, but Montero’s pass was broken up at the last second by a sliding Drew Moor.
“Normally if I only got three touches on the ball, I’d be upset,” Zakuani said in grading his performance. “But those were the best three touches of my life. I’m just happy to get out there. Tonight [was] just about crossing that white line and being happy that I did it and taking it in. Now that it’s done, I can really push on and become focused again.”
WATCH: Zakuani and Mullan exchange jerseys
In helping reach that end, Zakuani has expressed some openness to potentially going out on loan in order to get more game action.
“We talked about it,” Zakuani said. “It has to be the right situation, the right environment. There’s nothing concrete. There are multiple options. It could happen, I don’t know. I’m just trying to find minutes where I can so I can get back to where I need to be.”
In some ways, Zakuani’s return has only just begun.
Up until now, Zakuani’s only focus was getting his skills back to a point where he could at least justify a spot on the bench. But before his compound leg fracture, Zakuani was one of the league’s rising stars. He fully intends to be that player again.
“Now the real hard work begins,” he added. “Now, I’ve done it, it’s behind me and I can focus on getting my training habits back to what they were and try to regain my career.”
Jeremiah Oshan covers the Seattle Sounders for MLSsoccer.com and SB Nation.