SEATTLE — For the Seattle Sounders, a long sought-after victory came as the result of a pair of second-half goals.
And for Steve Zakuani, closure and a huge step in a long, long journey back, came in the form of a few minutes on the field, followed by a poignant moment immediately after the game.
Back on the field for game action for the first time since suffering a horrific leg injury more than 14 months ago, Zakuani had little impact on the game itself, a 2-1 victory over the Colorado Rapids that ended Seattle’s nine-game winless streak. However, he stole the show when he entered the game as a substitute in the 86th minute to a goose-bump educing ovation.
After the final whistle had blown, Zakuani shared a hug and exchanged jerseys with Colorado forward Brian Mullan, the man whose reckless tackle last season broke Zakauni’s leg and threatened to end his career. It was a moment of pure class from two players who have long desired to make last year’s incident a footnote on their careers.
“I’ve said from Day 1 that I have no issues with him, and I had forgiven him a long time ago, but it was good to have that public moment for closure and now he can go on with his career and I can try to do the same with my career,” Zakuani said.
“I have a long road ahead of me still in terms of playing consistently and consistently well, but that’s good; he takes my shirt home, I take his shirt home and that chapter is closed now.”
Of course Zakuani’s return would have been bittersweet had it not come in a victory, something Seattle was desperately seeking, having not won since May 9 in Dallas. And thanks to second-half goals by Alvaro Fernandez and Eddie Johnson, the 39,060 people at CenturyLink Field not only got to welcome Zakuani back to the field, but also cheer on a much-anticipated victory.
“It was nice to get three points,” Sounders FC coach Sigi Schmid said. “I guess the rumors of our demise were a bit premature.”
Seattle was in control from almost the opening whistle, but had nothing to show for it at halftime but a 0-0 score-line. Only a few minutes into the second half, however, Seattle broke through with a 52nd-minute goal by Fernandez, who headed in a Mauro Rosales corner kick for his first goal of the season.
Fernandez’ goal marked the first time Seattle has scored first since its win in Dallas, and it seemed to help the Sounders FC attack find another gear.
In the 59th minute, Johnson made an impressive run into the box and thought he had earned a penalty kick when he was taken down, but no call came. Johnson got his goal five minutes later, however, heading in a Rosales’ cross for his team-leading eighth goal this season.
The Rapids pulled a goal back in the 79th minute when Omar Cummings finished off a Luis Zepata cross. The Rapids then threatened several other times, and appeared to tie the score just before Zakuani came on the field. However, Jeff Larentowicz was called offside on what would have been a tying goal in the 85th minute.
“That last 15 to 20 minutes became a little hectic,” Schmid said.
Martin Rivero had a final chance to ruin the celebration in stoppage time, but fired a shot over the bar from close range. But neither that shot, nor any of the other late-game pressure applied by the Rapids, could ruin a very memorable night in Sounders’ history.
“Normally if I get three touches on the ball I’d be upset, but those were the best three touches of my life,” Zakuani said. “I was just happy to get out there and run. When Sigi called me and the fans saw me going over, the place became like a zoo. It’s amazing, it’s a moment I need to go home and watch on video just to see what really happened. It’s like a blur right now, but it was a feeling a feeling I can’t describe.
“All that hard work, multiple surgeries, the rehab, all of that came to a head at that moment and it was all worth it for that one moment.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.