Steve Zakuani was up to his old tricks at Tuesday's training. During the scrimmage, he was running at defenders, firing off shots and generally looking like the player who was once one of the most feared wingers in MLS.
But it's tough to know what, exactly, to make of this. The reality is that Zakuani has not played in more than five months after suffering a groin injury that required him to undergo a sports hernia surgery. The recovery has been speckled with more setbacks, as he still says he's not able to play without discomfort.
Still, Zakuani says he's finally able to contribute. Along those lines, he was included in the gameday roster against the LA Galaxy on Saturday.
"From Day 1 when they brought me to Seattle I just play the role the coaches ask me to play - whatever the team needs at that time," he told reporters following Tuesday's session." If I have to be just on the 18 and not play, then it's going to be just like it was on the weekend. If it's coming off at the end of the game, that's fine. If it's starting a game, that's fine too. Obviously the season has slipped by - most of it - but it is the key part of the year now, and it's a good time to get healthy. ... I can only train hard and leave the rest up to them."
Zakuani says that just being able to train at a high level is good enough for him, right now. He knows he's not yet 100 percent and he's clearly frustrated that his last two years have been defined by trying to recover from one injury or another. But he also says that he's in a good place now, even joking that he'd be OK with his oft-played commercial being pulled from rotation.
"I've been pretty happy with myself in training," he said. "I'm coming in everyday, I'm enjoying it, I'm buzzing, and I feel happy again. So that's been good. And obviously the whole point of training is to get on the pitch. But like I said, I can't control what happens.
"And to be fair, the team's been on a great run. I'm happy with what we've done. As frustrating as it is to watch, it's worse if the team is struggling and not winning. But they've done well. We've been winning and that's made it easier. I've been happy with how I'm training. I'm happy again with football, and I'll take it from there."
The nice thing is that there's not a whole lot of pressure on Zakuani to return at this point. The Sounders have claimed 25 of their last 30 possible points and surged into the Supporters' Shield race without any contribution from the speedy left winger. Everywhere you look on the roster, there's no shortage of talent. If Zakuani can just get himself to the point where he's able to be his old self for 15-20 minutes a game, that could be enough to push the Sounders over the top.
"It's the best and deepest squad we've had in my time here," Zakuani said. "I can say that, I think just on paper. But the paper don't play the games, you have to go out and do it - and we have been doing that lately. You can just read off the names on our team, and almost every team would like to have a lot of our players. And we have that and it's going to be fine in the balance of getting us all on the pitch and in the balance of when you're out there actually performing. I think if we do that we can have a very fun time in the postseason."