SEATTLE — The checklist has been exhausted.
Steve Zakuani has been training in full since July. He’s played, started and scored in MLS games. In the second leg of the Western Conference Championship against the LA Galaxy on Sunday – arguably the biggest match in Seattle Sounders history – he was one of his team’s best players.
Now, the midfielder would like to move beyond the injury and comeback that has defined his career for the past 18 months. Instead, he’d like to focus on the player he is now.
“A year ago, I was questioning if I’d play again,” Zakuani said in the postgame locker room. “So to come back and play like that, if anyone is questioning if he’s going to come back, I say you just watch that game.
“Those questions people were asking me were just fueling me to prove to everyone that I’m not just going to come back from injury, I’m going to come back and reach my previous level. You can go back and watch all the tape before my injury, and you won’t find many performances like that against a quality player like Sean Franklin, a quality team like LA. That should put all of that to rest.”
Not only did Zakuani play a season-high 81 minutes against the Galaxy, he also made good use of it. The 24-year-old was repeatedly able to create space between himself and Franklin to send in several dangerous crosses, and twice set up shots for teammates from just outside the six-yard box. He was also reasonably strong in possession and even managed to get involved on the defensive side a few times.
Adding to the impressive nature of Zakuani’s performance was that it came during a period in which he’d seemingly fallen out of the rotation. Since playing 20 minutes as a substitute on Sept. 29, Zakuani had played just eight minutes in MLS competition.
There was no sign of rust.
“I’ve just had to bide my time a little bit,” Zakuani said. “Going into the game, I knew I had to give everything I had. For 80 minutes, I just gave everything I had.”
It turned out to be not quite enough, of course, as the Sounders fell one step short of making their first MLS Cup final.
As far as Zakuani is concerned that just gives him more motivation.
“With an actual offseason and preseason, I’m not going to go back,” Zakuani said. “I didn’t have a preseason this year. At this level, you need that. At times, it worked against me, but it won’t be an issue next season.”