TUKWILA, Wash. – It was apparent very early on that Steve Zakuani was poised for a good night on Wednesday in Seattle's 3-1 takedown of Chivas USA in the US Open Cup semis.
Within the game’s first few minutes, Seattle’s left midfielder turned Chivas USA defender Mariano Trujillo on the end line and sent in a dangerous cross.
Seattle didn’t score on the play, but the Goats’ right back was in for a long night. With Zakuani’s confidence boosted, he continued to attack Trujillo on the flank, leading to the game’s first two goals.
READ: Recap: SEA 3, CHV 1
“I think once you beat someone once, twice, they start guessing themselves or they start fouling,” Zakuani said. “Once I know I’ve got his number, it becomes easy for me.
“Every time I got the ball, I felt [he didn’t know] what I was going to do. When I’m in that zone, I think that’s when I play as well as I can play.”
Zakuani got the best of Trujillo in the 10th minute on a near replica of the first play. This time, the cross met Nate Jaqua’s run into the penalty area. With a 1-0 lead, Seattle continued to exploit the advantage Zakuani offered.
“Zakuani was sharp today,” said Seattle head coach Sigi Schmid. “He had the better of Trujillo on the outside so that was important for us. I think he got a lot of respect [from Trujillo] early on. Once he took him early and set up that first goal, after that I think Trujillo backed up.”
According to Schmid, Chivas attempted to compensate by sending right midfielder Rodolfo Espinoza back to double-team Zakuani when he got the ball out wide. However, Zakuani once again got the better of the Chivas USA defense in the 58th minute, using a stepover to beat Trujillo wide and send in an unbothered cross to Fredy Montero for Seattle’s second goal.
It was a remarkable match for Zakuani, considering the second-year player had been suffering from a pelvic strain recently. Although he did play as a substitute in Seattle’s 2-1 win against Chicago over the weekend, he didn’t make the trip down to Honduras for the CONCACAF Champions League game against Marathón and also skipped last week’s match against Monterrey.
The injury was causing him pain when he trapped or shot a ball; essentially, anytime he moved his leg away from his center of gravity. The rest seemed to help the problem as Zakuani did not seem inhibited in his movements against Chivas USA.
He played 90 minutes before Schmid gave him a curtain call in extra time. Zakuani also led the team in two other categories: shots (five) and shots on goal (three).
The biggest beneficiary of Zakuani’s hard work was Jaqua. The lanky forward scored twice to bring his goal-scoring total in the competition to 5 and currently stands tied with Miami FC’s Paulo Araujo Jr. in the USOC’s goal standings.
Jaqua will have a chance to win the goal-scoring title outright with a tally in the final against the Columbus Crew. That match is set for Tuesday, Oct. 5, at 8 p.m. ET and will be carried live by Fox Soccer Channel.