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November 9, 2011 at 1:00 AM

Zakuani talks about his injury, recovery and next season

zakuani mug.jpgSounders FC midfielder Steve Zakuani talked to reporters Monday as the team held its final interviews of the season. The 23-year-old addressed a variety of topics, some of which resulted in our story in Wednesday’s paper. Here’s the transcript of what Zakuani had to say:

* * *

(What’s your plan for the offseason?) “Training. My season kind of starts now I guess. Well, it started a while ago. I’ve just been training. I’ll probably do Monday through Friday, take my weekends off and just try to be ready for preseason. I already kind of had my offseason when I went back to England for a couple of weeks, so my plan was to stay here and try to get fit so I can at least be ready to go with the guys when they come for preseason.”

(Is your expectation to be totally ready by the start of the season?) “Expectation? I don’t know. But the goal? Yeah. That’s my aim. I’m not aiming to be ready to go by January. That’s unrealistic. But by March? Yeah. I’d like to be able to play in the games. This is the first week of November, and I’ve got the whole of December, I’ve got most of January and I’ve got February, so I’ve got an extra four months to get ready. I think it’s more than possible, and I think I will be. It’s just about putting the work in now.”

(You’ve been measuring your progress on Friday’s. How was last Friday like for you?) “Last Friday, I probably (did the) most. I’ve been able to do most of the stuff, I just haven’t done contact. It didn’t make sense to do full contact at this point. The team was preparing for playoff games and I didn’t want to really be in those sessions that much. From conversations with Sigi and stuff, we kind of agreed to just work on the more technical stuff: passing, shooting, getting that comfortable and then trying to build up the rest. Right now my goals are trying to get back to sprinting — that’s the last thing to come, you’re speed and stuff. I’m waiting for the explosiveness and speed to come back, and leg strength, and maybe even a little bit of a mental issue. Confidence in taking hits and stuff, that’s going to be a while. So that’s what I have four months to work on. I’m happy where I am. The doctors say I’m still a little bit ahead of where they thought I’d be. It was a double leg break but people don’t know that I had compartment syndrome, which if you look it up, you know it’s a very serious issue where your nerves could die. I lost of a lot of nerves, so that’s been the main problem I had. The leg has been fine for a while, it’s just my nerves, but we didn’t want to say that right away because I wanted to see if it was going to come back. It’s slowly coming back and that’s the main issue, just the nerves. I lost a lot of nerves down my right side. (I didn’t have much) sensation in my foot and, obviously, as a footballer you need your foot.”

(What were the last three weeks like watching the team?) “The playoff game, the Salt Lake game, I was obviously disappointed with that one, but I still felt there was a chance to (come back). After being up 2-nil with 20 minutes, I felt like we were going to do it. I feel we completely outplayed Salt Lake in the second leg, that last game. It was just tough to watch when the game ended, to see the guys disappointed. My pain was different to theirs, but I was there last year when we lost to L.A. and I remember that pain. You go away in the offseason and it kind of eats away at you. I know what they’re feeling right now. I never felt that, to be honest, because I wasn’t playing, but I felt the pain as a whole, as a club, just to fall short again. We definitely should’ve gone further. The team had a fantastic season. The guys played well. Obviously we lost Rosales a bit before, and then you lose Flaco and Evans during the game — that’s tough to deal with. We coped and managed well and got two goals and just couldn’t pull it off.”

(Do you get excited when you look at the group that’s coming back?) “I don’t know who’s coming back. So I don’t know. Obviously they’re building something here and I’m sure they already have ideas on what they’re trying to do between Sigi and Chris Henderson and those guys. They have ideas and they’re probably working on that right now. I just think there’s a lot of talent here. We’re still looking at a couple teams in league like L.A. and Salt Lake, who maybe have a little bit more and they’ve proven it, so it’s what can this club do to get to that? But this club is three years old and after three years it’s been fantastic. This season was the best season this club has had and Sigi just told us the margin for error is now smaller. You win the Open Cup next year and it’s fun, but you’ve done it three times already. You make it to the first round of the playoffs, you’ve done it three times already. We have to try and go further. I just think with some of the players here, (we’ll have) a fourth year of chemistry between most of the core guys that will come back. Obviously you’ve got to replace the giant in the back, Kasey, which is not going to be easy for whoever comes in. That will be tough, but I think we’re all optimistic, just like we were last year. I think it’ll be a natural progression, but it will also be hard work. Obviously there’s the Champions League to look forward to, as well. I think it’s still a good time to be at this club.”

(Does the team seem different to you since the injury?) “I don’t know. I played maybe five or six games this year and we were still finding our feet. We lost the first two games and later went down to San Jose and I remember we played pretty well. I think that was Rosales’ first game. We still had to build that chemistry and didn’t win that game. We absolutely battered Houston and (tied). Then we beat the Fire and started to turn the corner a little bit. I think what happened was just different guys stepped up. One week Lamar would do it, then it’d be Fucito, then it’d be Fredy, then it’d be Rosales, then it’d be Evans. I think every team needs that. I can’t say if the character’s changed because I haven’t been on the pitch with them or around them. I can’t say that. All I can do is get back to my level and even surpass the level that I had, which I was very happy with. Then wherever I’m going to fit in, I’m going to fit in. That’s just the nature of what I have to face and overcome. I think whatever the team is now, it’s going to be different next year. I can tell that this team, even the one that I was on to start the season, was different to the team that ended last year, which was different to the team that ended 2009. We had different personalities, different characters. As soon as you change personnel, everything changes. I think it will be different next year. We just have to make sure that the level stays the same even if the style changes or something like that.”

(In the last few months you’ve been involved in a few projects like with Ishmael Beah and Jaxon Marquardt, what did those experiences mean to you?) “Like I said to people at the time, sometimes people say, ‘Oh look at what that athlete or that Sounder did,’ but if I was working at Whole Foods, I’d be doing the same stuff. If I was working as a teacher, I’d be doing the same stuff. It’s just something that comes out of who I am, just from my upbringing and the way I came about. I think it’s important to give back. The kid from Gig Harbor for example is a kid who had an injury — maybe not as bad as mine — but he had a serious injury and he would never in a million years expect me to come out to Gig Harbor … to give him a shirt. That was something that will stay in his mind for a very long time. I like to do that. Obviously with Ishmael, he’s working with Kei Kamara and Bill Hamid and Michael Lahoud, and I got involved with that charity for Sierra Leone. It’s just nice stuff to keep you occupied and give back a little bit. And I’ve had more time, to be fair. I’ve been injured, so apart from my rehab and training I’ve had to do the stuff to keep my mind away from the game. You can go crazy trying to watch soccer knowing you can’t play. As a get closer, I think I’ll cut back a little bit and focus on my training, but it was fun to be involved in that kind of stuff.”

(What’s your timeline and how excited are you to get back?) “I’m excited, but I’m also aware that it’s going to be tough. Not many players face this kind of stuff in their career, where you’ve got to come back from this kind of injury. Coming back is one thing, but regaining your level is another. Then improving beyond that is another. I’m doing pretty well. Like I said, I can jog, I can shoot, I can pass, I can sprint, but after maybe two days of consecutive training I’ll have to take some time off. I need to get over that hurdle and getting back to sprinting and cutting at 100-percent, taking contact — that’s what the next four months are going to be about. My goal is to be fit like the other guys to start the season. Not necessarily preseason. I think I’ll be able to do a lot in preseason, but I want to be ready by March. I’ve got a long time. I’ve got no offseason. I have no plans to go away, except for over New Year’s or something, but I’m going to be here almost every day in the gym, like I have been, and on the pitch twice a day or three times a day. Whatever I need to get fit, I’m going to do. That’s where my focus is now. My 2012 season starts now, I guess. It’s going to be a challenge, but I’m optimistic and I know I have the support of the coaching staff, the doctors and trainers. I think I’ll be fine.”

(Will your mentality regarding contact be affected?) “I don’t know. When I come back I’ll see. I don’t know. To be fair, I’ve had a lot of people reach out to me as you all know. Some that I’ve mentioned and some that I haven’t mentioned, but they’ve given me a lot of advice. I think naturally I don’t dwell on things that much. I’m not the guy that’s going to think about that stuff. If it happens again, it happens again. What can I do? I don’t think it’s in my mind to where I’m hesitant to come back because you can always get injured. No, I just want to come back and play. I think when I come back I’ll play the same way. The first time I trained with the guys as a group was a couple weeks ago before they went to Salt Lake and I was playing the same way like I played before. I don’t know how to play any different. I think football is played in the mind and right now my body won’t allow me to do what my mind wants me to do, so I still know what I want to do and when I come back I’ll be the same Steve Zakuani. I’m not going to change my game. I’m not going to adjust anything. I’ll play how I play. I’m confident that once I get that first tackle, maybe from Patrick Ianni or Zach Scott, I’ll be OK. So we’ll see.”

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