As most of their teammates were packing and getting ready to leave for Wednesday's road game against Real Salt Lake, a group of eight continued to kick the ball around at the training field.
Osvaldo Alonso was the most obvious, as normally he'd be getting ready to take the trip. He was joined by assistant coach Kurt Schmid; recently signed defender Daniel Steres; seldom-used players likes Michael Seamon, Michael Tetteh; veteran Roger Levesque; and forward Sammy Ochoa. The eighth person, though, was perhaps the most notable: Steve Zakuani.
Zakuani won't be travelling to RSL, of that we can be assured. But he is getting closer; so close, in fact, that it's understandable for fans to be wanting almost daily updates on when they can count on seeing him play in a game that actually matters.
The answer, unfortunately, is: When he's ready.
That's probably not what a lot of people want to hear. I can understand the desire to know, for certain, when Zakuani is going to be ready. People would like to be able to circle a date, make plans, move on. I get it. I just don't think it's realistic.
I don't think this is about fear of re-injury. Sigi Schmid has coached in this league an awfully long time and he surely realizes that every game is bound to be "physical." At some point, Zakuani is going to take a hard tackle in a game that matters and it won't make much difference if it happens this week or a month from now.
From best I can tell, the biggest reason that Zakuani has yet to make a first-team appearance is simple: Neither he nor the coaches feel he's ready to contribute at that level.
If Zakuani thought he was ready and the coaches agreed, I have no doubt he'd be getting minutes. But as it is, whose minutes does he take?
Considering he has yet to play more than 45 minutes in a Reserve League game, it's fair to assume that he's not ready to be a starter under any circumstances. That leaves him fighting for minutes off the bench. This will be the third competitive match the Sounders have played since Zakuani made his gameday roster debut. Considering the stakes of each game, it's hardly surprising that the Sounders have not wanted to thrust Zakuani into action.
Could he have physically played in any of these games? Sure. Would he have been a positive contributor? Who knows.
At the start of the season, most of us were saying that we were just hopeful that Zakuani made his return at some point. Considering there are at least 21 more competitive matches left to play this season, I think we can be reasonably assured he'll appear in at least one of them. Maybe we should trust that he and the coaches will know when the best time for that is.