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September 24, 2012 at 1:23 PM

Celebrating more than just a goal

First MLS goal. Sept. 22, 2011.

Add it to the list of milestones in Steve Zakuani‘s long recovery. As has been covered from a soccer perspective, Saturday’s 2-1 loss was a mixed bag for the Sounders FC midfielder.

From a human perspective, there was reason to celebrate — just look at the emotion in the video above.

What the video doesn’t show is Zakuani went down the team bench and eventually landed in the arms of fitness coach Dave Tenney, who has played a significant role in the midfielder’s return from the devastating leg injury.

Zakuani was asked about that moment after the game.

“I could have hugged 15 different people — everyone has been important to me — but Dave is someone who I’ve worked with since Day 1 and I really give him a lot of credit for getting me into shape and maximizing the natural abilities I had: the speed, the power,” he said.

“He made me fit. … A lot of credit goes to Dave because he pushes me in training and doesn’t let me slack off. Coming back from this, Dave has played a huge role. I just ran toward the bench and there was all of the coaching staff and all of my teammates who have been there for me. I just happened to see Dave, and Dave is really an important guy in my career. That was for him for that reason.”

I caught up with Tenney on Sunday after he led a regeneration training session with the starters from the San Jose game. Here was his view of the celebration:

“To be honest, he ran over and I’m thinking first, ‘All right, great! He’s going to celebrate with the team! I think that’s fantastic,'” the fitness coach said. “Obviously (head trainer) Randy Noteboom and (assistant trainer) Chris Cornish have done a great job, so I’m thinking, ‘That’s great! He’s celebrating with the trainers! That’s fantastic! They deserve it.’

“Then he jumps at me, which was an honor. It made me feel great because he’s worked hard and it’s always great when you see someone respond to what we’ve been trying to do. I always say that my job is to keep guys uncomfortable and always get them to do a little bit more than they want to, and Steve has embraced that. I think that’s one of the reasons to why he’s back to where he is now.”

Tenney said for him it’s important not to judge his own work by the success of the athlete, and that you just have to do the best you can and trust in the work you’re doing.

But a goal was nice affirmation.

“To get (Zakuani) back to where he was, and also to prove to him that all the hard work has paid off, I think that’s the best part of it,” Tenney said. “We always ask guys to work really, really hard, and when they see the fruits of that, sometimes that’s what motivates all of us to do even more.”

Zakuani has started the past four MLS games for the Sounders and recorded a goal and an assist. Minutes-wise it has gone 66, 75, 70 and 71. I asked Tenney if that’s right about where they thought Zakuani would be.

“It’s so interesting because he definitely has had ups and downs,” Tenney said of Zakuani. “He’s had periods where he progressed really rapidly and periods where the progress was really slow. Part of it is physical. Part of it is mental. It’s been such a long road. The good thing about yesterday is you can see his improvement in fitness and what he’s done over the course of the past month, the course of those four games. To me, that means he’s only going to get better. It’s nice to celebrate him scoring the first goal, but that’s just the beginning of a process that’s one-, two-, three-year process to get back to where he can be and actually to be a fitter athlete than he was before the injury, which I think is ultimately his goal and my goal.”


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