Is Seattle midfielder Steve Zakuani on the brink of a breakout season?
While one cannot draw too many conclusions from the first game of the season, it was apparent that Zakuani’s preseason work is beginning to show. The second-year midfielder tormented the Philadelphia Union defense down Seattle’s left flank at Qwest Field Thursday night, getting the best of the Union’s David Myrie all night.
Zakuani assisted on Seattle’s first goal. Perhaps more importantly for coach Sigi Schmid, Zakuani used a variety of methods to attack Philadelphia’s defense, something he did not do consistently as a rookie.
“He is a player with tremendous potential,” said Schmid. “Now he's taking guys inside and outside. Coming inside is something he tried too much last year.”
Too many times last season, Zakuani used his tremendous pace and dribbling abilities to get into dangerous areas. However, the final pass was nearly always missing – many times Zakuani would get dispossessed or lose the ball to a double team. He would also cut inside too often, to the point where it became predictable to opponents.
To correct these issues, Schmid has worked on getting Zakuani to become less predictable and more creative, especially with his off-ball runs. It was an overlapping run of Fredy Montero that set up Seattle’s first goal—an eight-yard finish from Brad Evans.
"He got into end line and found a person in that cross,” Schmid said. “Last year he got into the end line and didn't find anybody.
“That one was like you draw it up at practice.”
In his rookie season, the Akron University product notched four goals and four assists in 24 starts. If Seattle is to improve on its 38-goal haul from last season, Zakuani will need to be in the middle of it.
Zakuani, who had missed parts of the preseason as he recovered from shoulder surgery, showed no signs of the injury which had him in a brace during the team’s stint in Spain. He ran at Myrie constantly. At one point in the second half, Myrie could only throw his body in front of the onrushing Zakuani, earning a yellow card for the defender.
According to Schmid, much of 2009 was spent training Zakuani on how to mind to his defensive duties. Now that his understanding is better, he can switch his focus to becoming a more dangerous offensive player.
He still needs improvement, especially communicating with his teammates. Even in this preseason, Zakuani has been barked at by Freddie Ljungberg for failing to anticipate runs behind the opposing defense.
However, that cohesion is being built, game-by game. After the match, Zakuani said he believed the Sounders’ strong performance was born from the growing familiarity this team has built over more than a year.
“We know each other now,” Zakuani said. “We're friends and not strangers. Now we've played over 30 games together, so it's a natural progression.
“We knew where each would be. We made runs and knew where each other was going to be. It'll only get better."