There will be a (perhaps) surprising name on the list of players traveling with the Seattle Sounders to Tucson, Arizona as they take their preseason training on the road: Steve Zakuani.
What first appeared to be nothing more than exercise to get into shape — something the 29-year-old did at the end of last year as well — is now something more. When asked, Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer agreed that Zakuani was somewhere between a full-blown trialist and simply an alum back for a bit of training.
“I have a very open book with Steve,” said Schmetzer, who was an assistant during Zakuani’s first five-year stint with the Sounders. “We’ve seen him at his best, we’ve seen him now. You have to almost put that out of your head — what he was — and ask, ‘can he be a contributing member to any MLS team?’”
Zakuani retired from playing two years ago, spending his last professional season with the Portland Timbers where he was limited to 17 appearances, only made nine starts and had just three assists. His first five professional seasons were spent with the Sounders after he was the No. 1 pick in the 2009 SuperDraft. Zakuani was shaping up as an elite left-sided midfielder — scoring 12 goals and adding eight assists in 35 appearances over the 2010 and 2011 seasons — before he suffered a horrific broken leg that that forced him to miss 17 months of MLS action.
More recently, Zakuani has embarked on a promising career as a soccer commentator. He has been a regular contributor to the Sounders digital media platform and has proven adept at halftime commentary during TV broadcasts.
Even though Zakuani is still just 29 — and clearly still has some of the skills that made him such a tantalizing prospect — a comeback seemed far-fetched.
He’s still not listed on the official preseason roster, but he’s been assigned a number, (41,) has been participating in all the fitness tests, and has even gotten some time with first-teamers during short-sided games.
It’s not entirely clear who controls Zakuani’s MLS rights, but that doesn’t seem to be a big concern right now.
“He and I are in a good spot,” Schmetzer said on Friday. “He would tell me if he didn’t think he can do it anymore and I would tell him if I don’t think he can do it anymore. We enjoy having him around training, because he’s another guy who raises the overall level, and we’re just going to see what happens.”