At Sounders training this morning, Steve Zakuani made a wonderful step-over move to find space down the right side. It looked so familiar that the thought instantly flashed through my mind: “That looks just like Steve Zakuani” — meaning, of course, the old pre-injuyry Steve Zakuani.
After training, I asked him if he sometimes feels like the old Steve Zakuani.
“Not yet — not to the level I was,” he said. “But that’s the sort of thing that builds confidence, when you do those kinds of things. I’m just happy to be back in training. It’s been obviously a really rough rehab recovery. There were times when I was coming out here over the summer and I could barely jog with our trainer, and now I’m playing with the guys. So that’s great progress. But you want more, so I’m still pushing to get back to where I want to be, but I’m getting there slowly.”
A few other topics from a brief post-practice interview:
On if he feels up to coach Sigi Schmid’s suggestion of playing in reserve games next month: I don’t know. I’m just taking it day by day. I would say I’ve made a little progress. I didn’t see the reserve schedule yet, but if they want to put me in for a reserve game, I wouldn’t say no. I’m getting toward that stage. I don’t know if I can do a game-game yet, but I’m pretty close.
The last time we had spoken to Zakuani in detail about his injury was the start of camp back in January. We asked him about his progress since then.
“My leg feels more like a normal leg – it feels more like the left side,” he said. “Obviously, it will probably never be the same again, but I have to learn to adjust and compensate with what I have. I’ve done the right things in the rehab – I’ve kind of managed it well. I’m getting close. It’s almost a year now – next month it’s a year. I don’t know what the standard recovery for this injury with the compartment syndrome I don’t know, but I’m pretty happy where I’m at. If you would have told me back that day that you’d be playing a Major League Soccer game in July or August, I would have said absolutely. So I think I’m on course for that. We’ll see what happens.”
However, when Zakuani says his leg will never be the same, he isn’t saying that he will never be the same.
“People forget I had an injury at 15, and I had even worse nerve damage,” he said. “The right side was never the same as the left side, but I played three seasons of MLS and was playing just find. It would be kind of the same thing. I don’t think anyone whose had that kind of injury ever gets their leg back the way it was. So that’s what I mean: the mechanics of the leg. But no, you can always play. I’m getting close. My speed is almost. We’ve been measuring with some of those GPS devices we have, and I’m really really close to the top speed I had before my injury. So that’s a good sign. Now it’s just a case of putting it all together. I never think about not being the same. I came through it before and managed to become a pro and play at a fine level, they’ll tell you my leg on the right side was never the same. It took a bit more of a beating, but I’m confident I’ll be back and I’ll be fine eventually.”
One thing that does remain the same is the difficulty Zakuani has watching his teammates play without him.
“Maybe even worse,” he said when asked if it’s easier to watch games these days. “You want to play. These guys are my friends and teammates, and we’ve been here for four years now – four seasons. I’m here to play football. When you go to the games – not just watching the games, but being in the stadium, seeing the fans fill up, March to the Match, the Sound Wave, the national anthem, everything – it instantly triggers back to memories of when you could play. So, no, that’s not going to get easier I don’t think, until I can play. I support from kind of a distance. I’m with the guys every day. We all want the team to do well. But on the individual side of it, I don’t find it easy at all. I don’t really watch much MLS games anyway, because I’m just focusing on trying to get better.”