By Don Ruiz The News Tribune
About 48 hours after playing all 90 minutes in an MLS Reserve League match at San Jose, Seattle Sounders midfielder Steve Zakuani declared himself over the injuries that cost him almost 16 months of his career.
“I was just thinking, I’m over the injury,” he said after training Tuesday. “I don’t think about it any more. I’m thinking about match fitness and match sharpness and getting my form, which is going to be tough. But I’m close. This week we have a massive game, and I think every player here wants to be involved in this game. So, I’m going to train hard, and we’ll see what happens.”
That big game is the Sounders’ home match Saturday against Vancouver. The clubs are currently tied for third place in the MLS Western Conference standings, although that could change tonight when the Whitecaps play host to FC Dallas.
That puts Seattle in the rare position of being the fresher team when the weekend rolls around. The Sounders played four matches over the first 11 days of August; however, they play only one game a week during the next three weeks. That, combined with the team being back to almost full health, should give coach Sigi Schmid the luxury of fielding what he considers his best-11 lineup. The last time that happened was a 4-0 victory over Los Angeles on Aug. 5.
“The group that started against the Galaxy was at that point what we felt was our best group going into that game,” Schmid said. “Obviously, (midfielder Christian) Tiffert now is getting more minutes with the group and with the team and had a start in San Jose. We’ll see how it mixes together this week, try to get through the week of training and try to see what’s the best combination that makes sense going into the game with Vancouver.”
Schmid did not commit to using Zakuani against the Whitecaps. However, he has begun including Zakuani on the 18-man roster for games as important as last week’s U.S. Open Cup final.
“You want to have so many attacking players on your bench so you have some options there,” Schmid said. “He was the option that came to the forefront there. He’s done well enough to push himself into that. But I think this is another good week for him: another good week of training, there’s another reserve game coming up (Sunday). If he doesn’t get first-team minutes, it’s another opportunity for him to refine his game a little further.”
Zakuani suffered a fractured right tibia and fibula April 22, 2011, in a league game at Colorado. About a year later, he returned to training games. Then he graduated to a Reserve League match, and he finally made his first MLS appearance July 7.
Now he is trying to work his way into a starting job with a club that has upgraded its roster of attacking players since the day that he went down. But Zakuani says he welcomes that.
“I want all the best players to come here,” he said. “The more quality players we can have, then the better chance we have to win the MLS Cup, which is what the goal for this team is. … I think we have a very good team. We’re starting to gel a little bit more. It takes time to get together. (Eddie Johnson) has come in, he’s done great. Mauro (Rosales) is finding himself and Fredy (Montero) is getting some goals. Tiffert has come in, he’s done really well. We’re looking good, and we’re going to have a good finish here to the season.”
An unnamed new U.S. women’s professional league planned for next year will include a Seattle franchise, according to Bill Predmore, leader of the local ownership group. In the wake of the announcement, the W-League Sounders Women franchise on Tuesday repeated its commitment to “absolutely return to the pitch next season,” although perhaps in a new league. … Sounders FC is off today, but will return to training Thursday.