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Zakuani - 1st year learnings, Playoff preview

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I haven't done interviews for a while. My full time job had been at its peak, but now with a slight tailing off and the Sounders in the Playoffs I hope to get you a few interviews.

First up is Steve Zakuani. Rookie of the Year candidate, fan favorite and a threat along that left side. We talked via phone and any errors in the conversation are due to my efforts at transcription.

Dave Clark - Recently you've talked a lot about coach Schmid and Freddie Ljungberg educating you on the game. What has been your biggest learning in your first year as a pro?

Steve Zakuani - The main emphasis has been on how to make me more effective without the ball. In the past, in college and with the Arsenal youth, I always had the ball at my feet. Now I have to learn how to read the moves of the other players. I've had to learn to make better opportunities for me and for the team even with out the ball. That's been the main thing.

DC - I've noticed over probably the last third of the season that you've started tracking back more. How did that evolve?


Zakuani - I'm only one year in, but I've learned that if I want to play I have to help out and get back. I'm not going to be a Marshall, a Riley a Hurtado. I'm not going to be a stopper. But I can get back and help Leo. You have to do it. I have to help the team. I hear it in practice from the guys. Kasey isn't going to just let me stroll around, I have to get back.

DC - How is your relationship with Leo Gonzalez developing?

Zakuani - I've played with so many guys with Zach Scott, Tyson Wahl, Nate Sturgis and now Leo. They each have their own thing. With Scott he was such a good stopper I didn't have to get back quite as often. Now though with Leo its different, he's probably the best attacker of the bunch. I get a lot of double teams and triples. With Leo now that takes one of those guys away hopefully, or it gives me a pass. Its been good hopefully we are both back next year and it can get better.

DC - I've noticed you diving in diagonally earlier, is that to get a better shot, or just a different move as other teams learn your skills?

Zakuani - As I said, I got to be better off the ball. When I don't have the ball I be closer to the forwards with a good run on that diagonal and create good chances for someone like Ljungberg or Alsono to feed it behind the defense. I can't just stand out wide, I have to make something happen.

DC - Houston's RB lately is Andrew Hainault who is converting from his usual CB, does this change your approach?

Zakuani - At this point everyone knows everyone else. There is film and experience on me. I just have to do what I'm good at. He may be a bit stronger defensively, and he may stay back a bit more on offense, but for me its just about execution and playing my game. He knows that if I have the ball I'm going to run by him with it. I have to make that happen and execute. But i also have to make runs off the ball. I want to make him think that I'm going run at him and around him. Give him something to think about.

DC - Does facing a top keeper change a team's approach to shooting?

Zakuani - It does. We see a lot of film. We know the guys that we can get low, or the ones to one side or the other. But when the game is on you don't really think about that. You have to take the best shot you get. Every day we face Kasey in practice so we know what its like facing a great keeper. Onstad is good, but I'm pretty sure we've scored against him.

DC - Lastly do you have any words for the fans about last Saturday or heading into the Playoffs?

Zakuani - First I want to thank the fans. They've been great all year. From the first game against New York until the last game against Dallas they've been great. Even against Dallas when we were down by a goal the fans they just kept singing. They didn't let us down, they didn't give us the opportunity to get down. They definately pushed us on to that win. We want to make sure that the fans give their full force and give us that inspiration for another win.