Sounders wing Steve Zakuani played 90 minutes Sunday in the reserve match at San Jose. After training to day, he said he considers his once-career-threatening leg fractures behind him and that all he needs is game fitness and sharpness, which he hopes to get in first-team games starting as early as Saturday against Vancouver.
Here’s some of what he had to say:
On going 90 minutes: It was hard. It was a hot day, and the San Jose team had a much more experienced team than we did. It was a lot of chasing the ball, which was a lot of fitness. But I think for myself it was just a chance to get some minutes I haven’t been getting really. So to go 90 minutes was good and to be able to train 48 hours later was great. So I’m in a good place.
On recent appearances on the first-team 18) Being in the 18, you always want to get in and play. But it depends on the game and the situation and the changes we make as a team. It’s been good for me that I’ve been able to be in the coach’s mind for important games: the Open Cup final, the L.A. game, and I think that San Jose reserve game for myself was a chance to be out there, get some chances. I’ve done that. And to come out and have a good session today, and we’ll see what happens on the weekend.
On no longer appearing on the team’s injury list) I think even when I do get back to playing full-time, it will take me a couple of games to get back to speed. I think in training I am back to where I want to be, and I don’t have much more to go in training. Games are a different story. I was just thinking, I’m over the injury. I don’t think about it any more. I’m thinking about match fitness and match sharpness and getting my form, which is going to be tough. But I’m close. This week we have a massive game, and I think every player here wants to be involved in this game. So I’m going to train hard, and we’ll see what happens.
On if this period of his comeback requires more patience) I knew it would be. Before I was injured I was used to playing every game. And then it went. And I came back. I understood that I had a long fight on my hands, but I think I’ve come along well to get back to where I am now. I’m very happy with how my training is going, and I’m trying every day to bring back a few more things. The thing about the San Jose game was I wasn’t sure yet if I could do long-distance dribbling and things like that. That was what I was waiting for and that’s back. So I’m just at a very very very last moment, and I just want to get out there and actually play in front of the fans at CenturyLink. Hopefully sooner rather than later.
On playing forward and wing in reserve game) I think I’m always going to be a winger in Major League Soccer. In that game – because we had a lot of young players, and the personnel that we had – I had to play up front. But at the same time, I just was trying to get touches on the ball. I think as I move further along in my recovery, I’m going to have to start re-playing the left midfield position, which is where I love to play, and pick up the ball. It’s different from playing up top, and I’m not a forward. I don’t want to be a forward, I want to be a winger, which is what I am. I don’t think there’s much for me to do, it’s just a case of you need more fitness to get up and down. But other than that, it’s second nature. I did it all my life, so it will be easy for me.
On the club’s new attackers) It’s good. I want all the best players to come here. The more quality players we can have, then the better chance we have to win MLS Cup, which is what the goal for this team is. What I tried to do before was play my role, and all I can do now is try to play my role. If my role is going to be a starter, that’s great. If it’s off the bench, that’s what it has to be. Every player wants to be in the starting 11, and that’s why we train and push each other. That’s where I need to be, and that’s where I want to get to, but I don’t envision my role being any different. It’s just myself bringing what I brought to the team, and if that’s good enough to start, then I will. I’ll do what the coach requires of me. But I think we have a very good team. We’re starting to gel a little bit more. It takes time to get together. EJ has come in, he’s done great. Mauro is finding himself, and Fredy is getting some goals. Tiffert has come in, he’s done really well. We’re looking good, and we’re going to have a good finish here to the season.
And finally a bit from coach Sigi Schmid on Zakuani’s progress.
On Zakuani playing 90 minutes) It was good for him just to get the minutes in. It was good for his fitness and so forth. We switched him between playing wide and up front. Obviously the result wasn’t a good one for us, because we were trying to get him 90 minutes and play a bunch of young guys and so forth. It was good. There were periods within the game where you could see his explosion, and I think that helped his confidence level, knowing that he could explode past people; and he’s playing against people like carystevensonand caralles and beluchi and guys like that who have a lot of minutes – opera, people like that. I think that helped his confidence. Was he a 90-minute fit player? No. But it was good to get 90 minutes on him.
On Zakuani in the first-team 18) It had an implication as far as him being closer. But also personnel-wise you want to have so many attacking players on your bench so you have some options there. He was the option that came to the forefont there. He’s done well enough to push himself into that. But I think this is another good week for him: another good week of training, there’s another reserve game coming up. If he doesn’t get first-team minutes its another opportunity for him to refine his game a little further.