Steve Zakuani’s career had two distinct phases.
There was everything that came before that fateful day in Colorado: Zakuani was the No. 1 overall pick by the then-expansion Sounders in the 2009 SuperDraft out of Akron, the top MLS rookie in both goals and assists in his first season, the club’s joint-leading goal scorer with Fredy Montero in 2010.
Then there was everything that came after April 22, 2011, the date the winger’s right leg was broken on a tackle by Rapids midfielder Brian Mullan. He’s played in just 39 league games since.
On Wednesday afternoon, the pain of what came after the injury finally overshadowed the promise of what came before it, as Zakuani announced his retirement at the age of 26 on his personal blog.
His post provided eloquent insight on an athlete’s struggle to come back from a career-threatening injury and included a message of thanks both the Sounders organization and its fans.
“I want to especially thank the Sounders fans because of the five years in which you supported me through the good and the bad,” Zakuani wrote. “When I was going though my rehab after suffering my broken leg, you showed me how special you were in the way you reached out and rallied around me. You gave me strength to keep on fighting everyday; my motivation was to get back on the pitch and play in front of you, even just one more time. I’m glad I was able to do that.
“You’re a special group of people and I thank you from the bottom of my heart. The relationship I have with you is a bond that I believe will never be broken. Thank you.”
Zakuani finished his Sounders career with 17 goals and 14 assists in 80 league appearances, helping the club to U.S. Open Cup titles in 2009 and 2010. He joined the rival Timbers via the 2013 Re-Entry Draft, dishing out three assists in 17 games for Portland.
I’ll leave the last word on a career cut short to Zakuani himself:
“From the bottom of my heart I want to thank everyone that helped me go from a five-year-old kid with a dream, to a man that was able to fulfill it and excel.”