It feels odd to be writing about Steve Zakuani “retiring” again. One, he didn’t actually come back. Two, he didn’t retire from his actual jobs - analyst, motivational speaker, philanthropist. But a phase of his life is clearly done, again. Yesterday, Steve announced that his playful idea of a comeback is over.
His speech to his teammates — because any Sounder will always be his teammate — is a signal that Zakuani is as good a motivational speaker as he was winger from 2009-11.
Imagine being Dominic Oduro. You read the love that poured out to Zakuani regarding his comeback. You hear him describe what his wife saw. You see the love in Brian Schmetzer’s eyes on the introductions.
Imagine being Henry Wingo. You remember that day six years ago when you were a wide-eyed Academy kid. You saw the 11s raised around the stadium. You saw one comeback and another. You see a heart dedicated to greatness, and to Seattle.
Imagine being Gustav Svensson. You are new to this town. You’ve heard stories about Seattle loving soccer. Over the past week you’ve met a hero, who younger than you, is no longer a player.
The Sounders are about to defend an MLS Cup. They opened training camp with a speech from Zach Scott about how “real” work sucks. About a third of the way through training camp, they now get a speech from Steve that says, “the fans don't forget. The city doesn't forget.”
In a few months, coming off a loss, those moments will sit in the back of their minds. They’ll remember Scott and Zakuani.
We fans get to remember him in a different fashion. We get to remember the flashy winger. We get to remember the giver. We get his thoughts on games and on social media, where Zakuani is a bit of a Renaissance man. He can recommend fitness programs, books to read, basketball to watch, food to eat and discuss football tactics.
There’s a reason so many fans and teammates like him. He pushes you to be better — always, every time you interact with him.
Steve Zakuani’s soccer career started and stopped many times. An accident halted his chances at a contract in England. So he looked to America and college. From there he succeeded quickly, both in school and on the field. Here in Seattle we saw someone who developed as quickly as anyone. There were debates about which country he should represent, of the three national teams for which he was eligible. He did play in a friendly with his native Congo.
Then, one tackle ended that phase. He worked for 500 days, and returned. He was no longer great, but he was still good. There were glimpses of what was. Again his Seattle career took a pause, as he joined Portland. He somehow managed to be loved in both cities, which is a testament to his character.
He returned to Seattle to retire. He accepted a Golden Scarf and may be the best analyst the MLS Sounders have had. His career almost got another reboot this February we all got to hope again.
In practices he looked good. Unless you were part of the media, at First Practice, or part of the team you didn’t get to see him. He asked Schmetzer to not play in Arizona. He’d already made his decision, even if the fans refused to give up hope.
Couple quick things: Schmetzer wanted me to play in pre season games, I asked not to since I'd made my mind up. He's great, he's the man— Steve Zakuani (@Zakuani11) February 8, 2017
So the Arizona phase of training didn’t have Steve Zakuani sprinting down the touchline. Instead it had Henry Wingo and Shandon Hopeau doing that.
Now, our memories of Zakuani the player are just that, memories. It’s up to us to remember how good he was. That speed, that verve and vision were unique. His awareness of where to be and when to be there were vital. He melded with rookies and international greats. Just close your eyes right now and think about a ball sent down the touchline, Zakuani sprinting onto it. He gets a first touch to move past the right back but there’s cover coming from the centerback. So Steve keeps sprinting, ball tight to his left foot and then his right foot. They are about a yard from the endline now, an entire defense has collapsed into the six-yard box.
Zakuani passes it back to the spot. It’s an easy goal, as an entire defense focused on the blazing fast winger, ignoring the capable forward.
As a wise man once said “the fans don't forget. The city doesn't forget.”