PORTLAND, Ore. – It’s easy to tell when Sal Zizzo makes an appearance at JELD-WEN Field.
The Timbers Army is always eager to greet one of the speedy midfielder’s exhilarating runs down the wing with a hardy roar, easily qualifying Zizzo as a fan favorite. So when the 25-year-old tore his ACL on October 14 last year against the Houston Dynamo, the same injury he suffered in 2010 while playing for Hannover 96 of the Bundesliga, the speed that makes Zizzo such a threat was put in jeopardy.
“It was definitely tough, tearing it that late in the season,” Zizzo said.
But there would be some blessing in the injury’s timing. With the Timbers failing to make the postseason, Zizzo would have the luxury of not missing as many games while he rehabbed. He stuck around Portland, with nothing but his return to full health – and his downtown food cart, Zizzo’s FC – to focus on.
That successful extended rehab means that heading into Portland’s match Sunday at the LA Galaxy (7 pm ET, watch LIVE online), Zizzo is pleased to report that he’s back to 100 percent. His famous speed has even been on display as he has subbed on in the Timbers last three games.
“I feel good health-wise, 100 percent,” Zizzo said. “My knee feels almost better than it was before, a little more stable and I feel like I still have my speed. Everything is good.”
And with the Timbers near the bottom of MLS in goals scored – just 10 in 12 games (two of Portland’s tallies are own goals) – Zizzo’s explosiveness could be just what they need. Last year in 30 games, with 14 starts, he recorded three assists and 10 shots on goal.
“It was hard sitting back watching,” Zizzo said of missing the team’s first nine games. “I was always trying to get in there and talk to the trainers and tell them ‘I’m good, I’m good to go.’ But they had to hold me back, and that was good because now I feel great.”
Timbers head coach John Spencer said the team’s rash of injuries early in the season contributed to their struggles. In addition to Zizzo, midfielders Kalif Alhassan and Franck Songo’o and defenders David Horst and Mamadou “Futty” Danso have all missed significant time. And they’re all now healthy heading into the Galaxy game.
“We’re getting to see the nucleus of the club coming back healthy,” Spencer said. “We feel stronger and more confident.”
Zizzo said one of the biggest hurdles to overcome during the injury was the mental part. He said the time off the field affected his head as much as it did his body.
“A lot of it is just keeping your head straight, keeping your confidence,” he said. “Once you start getting that confidence back and doing the things you did before the injury that’s when you start getting your confidence back.”
And the next time he blows by a defender on the attack, Timbers fans will make sure everybody knows that Zizzo is back.
“It’s nice to be recognized by the fans,” Zizzo said. “It feels good. And all the games I’ve come in, I’ve felt like I’ve been a factor for our team offensively.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.