When I look back on my career, there are many highlights - the goals, the wins, the trophies, the friendships forged, and getting to travel the world doing the thing I loved to do the most. But, if you were to press me to tell you what the one highlight of my career was, then it was this moment below that I wrote about in my book, 500 Days:
What can I say that hasn't already been said about this special group of people? From day one the Sounders' fans embraced me and made me feel very welcome. But their affection and support went up to a whole new level when I suffered my injury. I literally received over five thousand letters of encouragement from them, and any time I bumped into fans on the streets they would wish me well. One time I ordered a pizza and the delivery guy happened to be a Sounders fan. We ended up talking about football and the Sounders in my hallway for about ten minutes.
The most precious thing the fans ever did for me, though, was during a game I didn't even play in. The first game the team played after my injury was against Toronto FC in Seattle. I was lying in a hospital bed just a couple of miles away from where the game was taking place. Two of my good friends, David and Stephen, visited me in the hospital that afternoon and as we were talking I asked them to take my mom to the game that night because I felt that it would be good for her to get out of the hospital. She had refused to leave my side ever since she'd arrived in the U.S., and even though I had a warm bed waiting for her at home she chose to sleep on a pullout mattress on the hospital floor every night.
Anyway, during the game that night at the 11-minute mark, the entire stadium, 40,000 people, lifted up white cards with my jersey No. 11 printed on them. They held the cards up and proceeded to chant my name for the entire minute even though the game was still going on. My mom broke down and cried. I actually never saw it happen live. I had the game playing in my hospital room but I had fallen asleep after only a couple of minutes. I watched the YouTube clip of that moment a few days later, and as I heard the "STEVE . . . ZAKUANI" chants I shed a few tears.
Even now as I write these words I'm overcome with emotion. It was the most special thing the fans ever did for me, and to this day all around Seattle people still have those white cards hanging on their bedroom walls or in the back windows of their cars. Every time I see one of them I'm reminded of the support the Sounders' fans gave my family and me during the worst moment of my life.
In the past I've sometimes held back my praise of the Sounders fans because I didn't want my statements to come across as cliché - you're supposed to talk well about the fans as an athlete - but I am now realizing that the bond I have with them goes beyond sports. It's difficult to explain, but from the day I arrived in Seattle in January 2009, you, the fans, have made a huge impression on me.
Running out to your cheers, hearing your rapturous applause after I scored a goal, and hearing you say "good game last week" when you bumped into me on the streets of Seattle are memories I'll always cherish. Win, lose, or draw your support never wavered. Even when I left the team and came back to play against you as a rival, you wished me nothing but the best. It's hard to wrap my head around the bond we have.
One of my dreams has been to watch a Sounders game as a fan, in the stands, right there with you and I'm sure I'll be able to do that sometime in the near future. I would say buy me a beer if you see me, but since I don't drink, you can buy me a coke and we'll cheer the team on together!
My book chronicles the hardest period of my life, but I can also say that it was in that period, that I truly learned to appreciate how special the Seattle Sounders fan base is!
There's a lot more to the book than just the injury. There are stories from my time playing in the Arsenal academy, some off-the-field stories from my teenage years, and some memories from my pre-injury years with the Sounders. Writing was my outlet during my rehab, and it's those writings that laid the foundation for this book. Sigi wrote the foreword, Thierry Henry endorsed the book, and many of you supported the self publishing effort on Kickstarter - it's definitely been a team effort to produce this story.
The book is out today on Amazon (paperback), and as an e-book on Kindle, Nook, and iTunes. You can visit 500daysbook.com to purchase the book in your preferred format.
I'll be doing a book signing on Saturday, Feb. 14 at the Seahawks/Sounders Pro Shop in downtown Seattle at noon . You can bring your book with you, or buy one at the Pro Shop and I'll be happy to sign it for you. I hope to see some of you there so I can shake your hands and thank you in person for your support over the years.