Losing Steve Zakuani hurts me

Doug Pensinger

When the reality of losing Zakuani hit me, it reminded me of all the good times he's helped me have and the genuine soul he brought to Seattle.

Logic told me a while ago that losing Steve Zakuani was possible. Analysis said that it was likely to be to a team that had Allocation Money and his former coach. My heart? It hurts. It doesn't hurt because of soccer. It does not hurt because of Cascadia.

It hurts because I feel connected to Steve.

He was one of my earliest interviews. Back when Sounder at Heart was a blog from a basement (not really) with no credibility I talked to a kid from Akron about his future in MLS. It was an interview arranged over Facebook. I still have the landline and cell numbers used that day in my phone. I've never called them again. It was a 10+ minute interview with a youngster who became a man before my eyes. It was difficult to transcribe and was one of the first times I dipped back into traditional journalism things after about seven years away.

I would not talk to him again for many months. He didn't remember me. It didn't matter. He treated me like any other reporter. He answered questions, gave insight, laughed and smiled. That was true for all his years here in Seattle.

On a few other occasions I interacted with Zakuani during some charitable endeavors. We played EA's FIFA together. I watched him coach more than two dozen women. I was the only other adult male at the coaching session. Steve was class at both events. He bantered with fans, took Jason Banton to task in the video game and taught those women a few things about soccer. He posed for pictures and smiled.

During that coaching lesson he couldn't do more than walk and talk. He stood over a ball and looked down at it a few times, but that night was not about playing soccer. That night was about leading and helping. It was an embodiment of his spirit.

We saw even more of that spirit when he returned to the pitch at CenturyLink Field. That match showed me that Steve Zakuani, quite young compared to myself, is exactly the type of person I hope my son can become, even though I don't have a son.

Today, the news was simply a Seattle Sounder returning to the field. He did so against the team where his very career was threatened. He didn't get many touches. He didn't threaten goal. It was still more than enough. And then Steve Zakuani capped it off with a moment that only a great man can do. He took off his jersey and swapped with the man who was suspended for tackling him. Brian Mullan will be able to have that top for the rest of his life. Zakuani will as well. If you want closure, there it is.

That's Steve. He's been like that every time we've talked. Whether we chat about soccer, or charity, or his favorite books. He's true. He's real. He's gone.

I don't care where he plays in the future. I will always be a Steve Zakuani fan. I will never be able to fathom opposing him.

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