SEATTLE – Steve Zakuani just wants to be treated like any other soccer player.
Yes, he scored his first goal in 17 months on Saturday. Yes, it ticked off one of the final check marks on his road to recovery. Yes, it was immediately followed by a celebration that was befitting of the moment.
But it also came in a disheartening loss in which he played a role in both goals the Sounders allowed in their 2-1 setback to the San Jose Earthquakes. Just like any other player who scores in a loss, Zakuani was in no mood for happy reflection after the game.
“I would have taken the three points and not scoring,” Zakuani said. “It was a huge game for us, not just because it was San Jose, but because we need to keep getting three points. It’s an important time of the year. It would have been perfect to score and get the win, but it wasn’t meant to be.”
When he scored the goal, it had all the potential for a storybook moment.
With the Sounders trailing 1-0 in the 14th minute, Sammy Ochoa won possession of the ball. On the other side of the penalty area, Zakuani found himself unmarked as he drifted into space at the far post. Ochoa slid a left-footed cross through the box that Zakuani coolly finished by skipping it off the turf and into the back of the net.
The 24-year-old let out a long scream as he celebrated along the sideline, eventually making his way to the Sounders bench where he gave trainer Dave Tenney a big hug.
“I could have hugged 15 different people that have been important to me,” Zakuani said. “Dave has been with me since Day 1, and I want to give him a lot of credit for getting me into shape and maximizing the natural abilities I have, the speed and power. He made me fit.
“A lot of credit goes to Dave because he pushes me in training and doesn’t let me slack off. Coming back from this, Dave has played a huge role.”
While that may ultimately prove to be the lasting memory of the game, in the immediate aftermath Zakuani had two other moments weighing on him.
Zakuani’s first mistake came early on, when he gave up the ball near midfield. The Earthquakes quickly transitioned into a counter-attack, which Simon Dawkins finished off with a second-minute goal. Zakuani also accepted blame for the Earthquakes’ second goal, as he failed to get off the post following a corner kick and kept Chris Wondolowski onside on his 30th-minute winner.
In a long road to recovery from a compound fracture that once threatened his ability to ever play again, being in a position to accept responsibility for on-field mistakes has to be considered a positive step. It might even be the final one.
“When it’s my error, I’m going to put my hand up and going to come out and train harder and put it right on the pitch,” Zakuani said. “We lost an opportunity tonight.”
Jeremiah Oshan covers the Seattle Sounders for MLSsoccer.com and SB Nation.