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Steve Zakuani - Generation WOW

For those that thought that Seattle was running a 4-4-2, it was Steve Zakuani that they found the most frustrating. Even if you thought that they ran the diamond midfield, Zakuani frustrated. Most of the frustration was centered on his lack of defensive efforts. Later the frustrations would focus on his lack of "finishing" skill. Some would even claim that he wasnn't a finisher in college.

Much of this came from locking the Sounders into a more traditional formation/scheme, and frustration with Zakuani's conversion rate (Goals to Shots). Yes, Zakuani did not convert his shots at a rate at the Sounders average (Zak at 7% to SSFCavg at 12.6%), but he was great at putting the ball on target (43.9%, 3rd on team, 39% avg). This was a much lower rate than he had in college, and may be due to pressing from the high expectations that come with being the number one pick.

As for his abilities as a Left Midfielder, look back to Sigi's Arrow. You will note that unlike the traditional 4-1-3-2 the Arrow has an additional player behind the LM. While this doesn't excuse a lack of defensive effort or skill it does minimize the impact. Late in the season Zakuani said that the veteran leadership on the team was really pushing for him to get back defensively a bit more. Stronger defense and better shot selection will lead to a much improved  season for the Sounders and the young phenom.

Because while Sounders fans in the blogosphere seem to be focusing on the two areas where Zakuani lacks, they are failing to remember that feeling they get when the ball is at his feet as he runs up the left touch. In a league where so few players are able to beat a single defender with ball at feet, Zakuani beat one so often that opposing teams started doubling him. He then would split those, or just go around the pair. He is a game changer with the ball at his feet, while generally favoring his right foot he would use the left just enough to keep the defense honest.

This level of anticipation and excitement though does have a draw back, it raises the bar of expectation amongst the fans. It creates the myth of a complete player. Seeing how someone judges Zakuani can let you know how much MLS and how much EPL they watch. To borrow a phrase from baseball - Steve's Plus-Plus dribbling skills have lead to a myth that he must be that good in all facets of the game. If that were the case he wouldn't be in MLSat this time.  He is still young though, has solid tactical knowledge, decent passing, great footwork with a below average shot and defensive skills.  That's a good player in this league and one with a solid future. 

Offense: Zakuani'soffensive value comes from his great speed withthe ball. He isn't particularly fast on his off-ball runs, but with the ball at his feet he can change the game.  He puts the ball on target at a great rate and this may lead to slightly more conversions in year two. His passes tend to be well located but like most Sounders' passes are low into a tight 18-yard box.

Defense: Zakuani's defense needs to continue to improve, specifically learning to harry the opposition in their own third as Jaqua, Levesque, Ljungberg and Le Toux did to such effect. While he doesn't need to get back every time within the Sigi system, he should comeback to the defensive half more frequently.

Set-Plays: Zakuani's mix on both offense and defensive set-plays is not on the target, but instead to be an outside through pass, or to prevent the same. This can also lead to Steve being in position to lead a rapid counter on defense, or to make a late run on goal after a scrum and loose ball.

Defining Moment: When facing Barcelona he managed to get by their starting Left Back early in the match. The opposing player than took the game a bit more seriously, even calling for help the few other times that Zakuani got the ball.

Statistics
Plus/Minus - 7 | 5
Plus/Minus Per 90 - 0.32 | 0.25
Productivity in League Play - 0.54
Productivity in All Competitions - 0.52
Ratings from Prost Amerika - 6.18 (13th)

Second +/- listed uses Climbing the Ladder's data.

Short Term Peak - Steve Zakuani has the potential to be an all-star caliber Left Wing in MLS, even within the next two years. Small improvements in shot selection and defense may lead to him getting a look in Europe, almost certainly England. 2010 could be an 8 G 8 A in all competitions year for Steve.

Thoughts on Steve Zakuani'syear and chance for improvements? I know he's on the short list for hot-button players with Jaqua and Montero, so don't be shy but certainly be fair. This is Major League Soccer.