TUKWILA, Wash. — The rain was coming down pretty heavily and temperatures were in the low 40s during the Seattle Sounders’ training session on Tuesday.
Steve Zakuani couldn’t have been happier.
The 24-year-old midfielder was training at full speed two days after appearing in a game situation as a member of the Sounders reserves, who played Gonzaga University on Sunday. There were no apparent ill effects from his 45-minute appearance, marking a huge step forward as Zakuani continues to work his way back from the compound leg fracture that he suffered nearly a year ago.
“Before, I didn’t want to be out there training on days like this,” Zakuani told MLSsoccer.com on Tuesday. “Now, put me out there in rain, hail, snow whatever, I’ve really re-found my love and appreciation for football.
“I think sometimes you lose that along the way, but I’ve found my first passion again. Now, obviously, I’m a professional, I’m hungry. I want to get back on the pitch again and do everything I can to re-reach my level again and take my career where it’s supposed to go.”
Prior to Zakuani’s injury, the sky really did seem to be the limit. He had already scored two goals and registered two assists in the Sounders’ first five matches of the 2011 season following a year in which he had contributed 10 goals and six assists.
Although clearly frustrated that he’s basically starting over again, Zakuani is focused on returning the field.
“Where I’m at is I’ve realized that I am going to come back,” he said.”There were times where I wasn’t sure. Knowing that I will come back has given me something really tangible to aim for.”
Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid has been very careful not to assign exact timelines to Zakuani’s return. But he acknowledged that Sunday’s appearance and Zakuani’s ability to return to full training Tuesday were undeniably positive steps in that direction.
“He’s building up his aerobic capacity,” Schmid said. “It was good to go in a game. It was a little tighter, more short running. The longer running is the area that he has to continue to improve in. I think the game for him on Sunday was good for him psychologically and it was good physiologically because we have a good idea of what we need to work now.”
Next on Zakuani’s to-do list is playing in an actual Reserve League game against MLS competition. He’ll eventually earn starters’ minutes there and then, presumably, be ready for an actual league game.
That could be as long as a month or two away, but Zakuani is clearly welcoming the challenge.
“There’s nothing really holding me back,” he said. “I’ve got the green light from doctors. Medically I’m fine, physically I’m ready. It’s just a matter of going out there. There’s a lot of reserve games coming up and it’s a really, really, really long season. I’m not too far from getting there.”
Jeremiah Oshan covers the Seattle Sounders for MLSsoccer.com and SB Nation.