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July 8, 2012 at 2:31 AM

Steve Zakuani: “All that hard work and multiple surgeries and rehab … it was all worth it for that one moment.”

zakuani colorado.jpgPhoto credit: Otto Greule Jr., Getty Images

What a night for Sounders FC midfielder Steve Zakuani, who returned to MLS action more than 14 months after suffering a broken leg last April. He returned against the Colorado Rapids, with Brian Mullan on the field, no less. Here’s what Zakuani had to say afterward:

* * *

(Finally the moment arrives…) “I’m honestly overwhelmed. I tried to visualize what that moment would be like for over a year. It’s something I can’t describe. Those fans are something else. I think they outdid themselves again tonight — it was so loud. I’m emotional, obviously. It’s a final check-mark I had in my mind and I’m also happy the team won, obviously, so it’s a perfect night all-around for everyone involved in the Sounders, this organization. I’m glad we got the win. I’m glad I came in. Now it’s just we move on from here.”

(On exchanging jerseys with Brian Mullan…) “I’ve said from Day 1 I had no issues with him. I had forgiven him a long time ago. There were no problems, but I think that was good to have that public moment for closure. I think he can go on with his career, and I can try to do the same with my career. I have a long road ahead of me still in terms of just getting back to playing consistently and consistently well. So that’s good. He takes my shirt home, I’ll take his shirt home and I think that chapter is closed.”

(Was it hard to stay composed out there and focus on the game?) “I always knew it was going to be tough. Tonight, honestly, I was hoping the team would win 3-0 or 4-0, and I could come in and it would be easier because I knew today wasn’t really about performance. You can’t really prepare for that moment. I’m glad it’s done, and like I said, I think the real hard work begins now because now I’ve done it, it’s behind me and now I can really focus on getting my training habits back to what they were and all that kind of stuff and just really try to regain my career, in that sense. Tonight was special; it was great. It was definitely tough to stay composed, but we did it. My teammates, obviously they helped me, like they’ve always been. (Coach Sigi Schmid) timed it right. It was the right moment; I felt today was definitely the right time to do it, and I think it’s smiles all around.”

(What was the emotion like when Schmid called you to the bench?) “I was just watching the clock and seeing when it would come. When they told me to come down it was 2-0 and I thought we were going to keep the ball and make them chase. And then they scored. So when I came on, they made us chase the ball. I was doing a lot more defending than I expected to. Normally, if I get (just) three touches on the ball, I’d be upset. But those were the best three touches of my life. I’m just happy to just get out there and run. So 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 probably, just to see what really happened. It’s like a blur right now. It was a feeling I can’t describe. All that hard work and multiple surgeries and rehab — all of that just came to a head at that moment, and it was all worth it for that one moment.”

(What did Schmid tell you before you went on the field?) “He told me to tell Andy Rose to play a little bit deeper. (laughs) That’s what he told me. That was it. He didn’t give me anything. I don’t think that’s what that moment needed. He could have easily said, ‘Stay composed,’ but no. We had a game to win, and they had just scored, and then they just had the offside goal as well. He was just like, ‘Tell Fredy to do this. … Tell Andy to do that. … And enjoy yourself.’ ”

(Schmid mentioned possibly going on loan to get minutes. What do you think?) “We talked about it. It has to be the right situation. It has to be the right environment, and we’ll see. There’s nothing concrete, obviously. We just kind of discussed it. There’s multiple options. The thing is, with the Reserve League taking that huge break, I wasn’t sure where I was getting my minutes from, so we kind of looked at that possibility. So it could happen. I don’t know. We’ll kind of let the dust settle and see where it’s at, but I’m just trying to find minutes where I can and then get back to where I need to be. So yeah, I don’t know any more than that, just that it’s a possibility.”

(Did the fact that the game was against Colorado make any difference to you?) “No, not really. Had I come back today against any team in MLS, I still would have had this game — the moment I played against (the Rapids) — in my mind. So I think to do both at once was good for me. So now that’s done, both of them. I have no more things to look forward to in that sense except just trying to play and help the team to … get our season some momentum and going, so that’s my main focus. I’ve always been a team player. Had we won today and I didn’t come in, I would have been just as happy because we had to get our three points, and we did it. I think from now, I’m just trying to work my way back into the team in that sense.

(You never talked about deadlines, but was there a time you thought this wouldn’t happen?) “I think the first time I mentioned a date was to Sigi. I had a chat with Sigi a few weeks ago, and he said, ‘How do you feel?’ I said, ‘Let me keep training how I’ve been training, and I think Aug. 5 against L.A. would be a good day.’ And he says, ‘OK, let’s aim for that day,’ and then he put me on the bench against Kansas a few days later. (laughs) So I was kind of surprised by that. That was good. Then, they went away on the road. When the team goes on the road, they don’t get as much training as I need, and so I’d like to stay back and really push my training and fitness, which is what I need. Then they came back, and it was just the perfect moment. It could have been anyone today, but it just happened to be Colorado, and obviously the storyline behind it. So like I said, it’s a great moment and great for me to have both of those checks were ticked off today, and I’m just happy.”

(Was there a moment that you thought about how far you’ve come? Have you gotten to that moment yet?) “When they put my number up and Mauro came off, I tried to kind of take it in and just compose myself, thinking, ‘Just enjoy the moment.’ There honestly was a time when I thought I would never play football again. Honestly. There was a period where I thought, ‘I’m never going to play again.’ To be back there was, for me, the biggest achievement. I just took it in. I just said, ‘No matter how it goes, don’t try to do anything, just enjoy yourself.’ Tonight was just about crossing that white line and being happy that you did it, and taking it in. And now that it’s done, now I can really push onto really becoming focused again and saying, ‘OK, I really need to clean this up, clean that up and really put some work in.’ ”

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