Back when Nos Audietis hosted YachtCon15 Steve Zakuani said he still did not know what his future would hold. He had the opportunity to dabble in many things with the Seattle Sounders and his charity work. A few months later, and seven months after his first Zakuani and Friends Charity Game, Steve has a better idea of what his post-playing future holds. It's still a wide variety of things. His second Charity Game is on May 15th, he is working on another book, Kingdom Hope continues to provide soccer scholarships in the Greater Puget Sound and educational opportunities for youth in Africa.
Steve Zakuani the soccer player may be something we only see at a charity match. Steve Zakuani (who used to get in trouble with Sigi for reading too much) the Renaissance Man is in full effect.
...When I retired I didn't have a set plan, "I'm gonna do this or that" it wasn't like that, I had an idea of things I wanted to do. I knew Kingdom Hope would take a lot of my time, I knew I was writing my own book, and it all kind of has led to some really amazing different situations. One of the things I've been doing is just, going to different -- I don't know how this exactly happened -- going to different events speaking. There was an event in Seattle a month ago called Get Motivated. It's a massive motivational seminar with 2,000 people and I was one of the speakers there. And that went great, and so from that, that whole tour where they go to 60 cities, they want to get me on board with that tour now. And can I commit to 60 cities around the country to speak?
I don't know, but there's all these opportunities. The book went all over the world and we had people in Brazil, China, Australia send us messages, like: "We didn't know who you were, but we read your book," and it has opened up amazing doors. I'm enjoying -- I loved playing -- but I'm enjoying what I do now more in a sense, It's more rewarding, and I think I'm saying that because the last two years of my career I didn't enjoy as much because of what my body was going through. But what I get to do now, it's on my terms. I get to do some stuff with the Sounders broadcasting-wise, but away from that, you know, working on the next book, traveling to speak quite a bit, and doing some stuff with Kingdom Hope, I couldn't ask for more at this point. - Zakuani to Sounder at Heart
For the past couple month those that follow Steve on Twitter or Facebook know his focus is in on the 2016 Zakuani & Friends Charity Game presented by Adidas. The list of guests is impressive. It is not just Sounders and some friends from Akron, though there are those too. There's also the two best players that made MLS their league of choice (according to Steve). If the MVP trophy wasn't named for Landon Donovan it could have been named for Dwayne De Rosario -- both will be there.
In our thirty-some minute conversation Steve talked about convincing a seven-time MLS Best XI and a six-time MLS Best XI player to come to a tiny stadium in Tukwila, Wash. and raise some money for area and African children.
Dwayne I have known on and off in the sense of just playing against him. Not friends, nothing like that, but we did hang out one time in Seattle, I think it was 2012. New York Red Bulls had just played Portland Timbers, Thierry Henry had been sent off in Portland but they stayed on the west coast and he stayed with the team. So as soon as I knew Thierry wasn't playing, I arranged to meet Thierry at the hotel. So he and I -- this was the year I missed pretty much because of my leg, I came back at the end so I wasn't playing, nothing, but we stayed up the whole night just talking. And then Dwayne de Rosario was on that team and he joined for a little bit, so I met him there for the first time, on a personal level. So since then we've been friendly, and when this game came up I had a list of guys that I wanted, to kind of just go through, and if guys say no then you go on, but he right away was up for it, wanted to come. I think he's a guy who just loves football, he loves to play. All he talks about is football, and he knows a few of the guys coming anyway, most of them, so that was kind of easy.
With Landon, I've known Landon for years, actually, just through our agent. We always had the same agent the whole time I was in MLS. Every time I went to LA, Landon would be friendly, every time we played. It was always a nice cordial relationship. There'd be different messages passed between us from our agent. And then we started talking right around the time I was about to retire. He sent me some really nice texts, encouraging stuff, and then he retired and I repaid the favor. And even during retirement, one of the people I was reaching out to, because it's a hard transition, was Landon. You know, "How are you dealing with it?", so he's always been nice. Tried to get him here last year, the game was October 11th, I think he was [busy with the U.S. match against] Mexico October 12th and he couldn't make it, he was involved in that game somehow. [Ed. USMNT played Mexico October 10th, 2015, losing the CONCACAF Cup 3-2 in ET.] As soon as this year came around, the first person I reached out to was Landon, and he was on board right away. We had to kind of work some things around his schedule initially, before we announced the date, but he was onboard. We've always been friendly, Landon and I.
After that it gets pretty easy to reach out. Steven Hauschka will be there, as well as some other Seahawks in non-playing capacity. Chad Johnson (Ochocinco) the retired NFL great, is coming. The list of former Sounders is huge. It also includes two men that are going because they love what Steve is doing through Kingdom Hope - Patrick Ianni and Eddie Johnson. They were both former roommates of Zakuani's, but they are also the type of people who are looking to contribute to society in their post-playing careers.
Zak credits the Sounders for a lot of behind the scenes work. From controlling owner Adrian Hanauer down through the corporate ranks of Taylor Graham, Roger Levesque and Marcus Hahnemann.
A huge amount of effort is going into this. The reasons are simple. Steve is inspirational. That's why he is writing a second book already, this one focusing on how even greats fail. The other reason is better - Kingdom Hope is helping people. In Africa, specifically Congolese refugees living in Rwanda, Kingdom Hope is funding university education. That schooling is local, so the money stays in the continent.
So they are kids who, when the genocide happened in the Congo, they were refugee families that moved to Rwanda. And they haven't been able to go back. So they live now to this day, in this tiny refugee camp, and I was there, I visited there. And one of the things I did was -- the kids actually built a school with their own hands, they built their own school because they wanted to study. And I spoke at that school, and I sat there in the mud hut with 60, 70, 80 kids crammed into this room, and I did a whole one hour talk in French for the first time ever, and the kids loved it. And those are the kids who we thought "OK, we're gonna help these kids." Because they could never go to university. I met their families, 12 people live in a shack, it's like you can't even imagine. They can't believe that their son, their brother, their cousin is in university studying engineering or biochemistry, whatever it is. So that program is specifically for kids from the Congo like me, who would never have a chance to go to university, to go to university. But not bring it into the states or into England, keep them in Africa, and hopefully once they graduate they stay there and help their country.
Locally the efforts are on reducing costs for youth to play club soccer. Steve's goals there are two-fold. The prospective player must be both good at soccer and look to contribute in the community. Their first scholarship went to a young lady with PacNW. The goal is to increase both elements of Kingdom Hope's mission.
And that program is actually gonna grow after this game. This game is being played in part to raise funds for that specifically, it's called Soccer on Us. Because I grew up in England where football is free. You wake up, you want to join that team, you play. I started playing when I was five or six years old, every Sunday, for free. I never thought about paying for a uniform, paying for this. And here, kids will pay crazy figures and we want to help, I want everyone to play the sport, so that's what that's about. But, we're expanding it, we really want kids to be conscious of doing things in the community, so it's almost like they have to come up with some kind of community project or some kind of cause before they get qualified.
Through all this planning for his tournament, Steve is also doing a combination of studio analysis and color broadcasting on radio and/or TV for the Seattle Sounders. He is working on a book with about 20 people discussing their biggest failures, despite being known for great success. There are speaking engagements in the US, Congo, Rwanda and London.
No longer "soccer-busy" Zakuani is real-life busy. He knows that you are real-life busy too. His final call for you to come to his tournament is clear. You will have fun; you will help people.
... if you come out, that money is directly going to help people in this community along, and then the causes that are close to my heart like the scholarship program in Africa. Non-profits, they really do survive on help from the public, there's no other way, it's not a corporation, nothing like that. So, you're coming to see a game, you're coming to see great players. Let's just talk on the soccer side: You're gonna get to see Landon Donovan at Starfire, you know, Chad Ochocinco at Starfire, Steven Hauschka. That doesn't just happen every day. Jimmy Conrad, Oguchi Onyewu. These guys are coming to our community. They're gonna play, they're gonna play hard, and once it's all said and done, a kid who is thousands of miles away gets to pay his tuition for the next year again. That is what that's leading to. Or, a kid who's on the fence about can they afford club soccer next fall will be able to afford it.
Sounder at Heart will be covering the match. Realio is going to do player ratings. It's a cause we believe in and one that we've helped on a few occasions in the past.
Part two of Sounder at Heart's conversation with #11 will focus on the Sounders and the league he's watched grow. Fellow writers Jacob Sweeney-Samuelson and queenofcascadia transcribed the 34-minute interview.