Sounders FC midfielder Steve Zakuani took a major step on his long road to recovery tonight, playing the first 45 minutes of an MLS Reserve League match against Vancouver.
The Whitecaps won, 2-1, at Starfire Sports Complex.
However, the news of longer-lasting importance may have been Zakuani’s first game appearance since suffering a fractured right tibia and fibula April 22, 2011, during a game at Colorado.
Afterward he said he felt winded by that the leg injury was fine. He said he was frustrated to have missed a good goal chance but said he expects to be back in an MLS match sooner than most people might expect ... if only for 10 minutes or so to start.
Since suffering the injury, he had played training games, including 45 minutes in a friendly against Gonzaga in early April. He had expected to make his Reserve League debut April 23 at Chivas USA, but that plan was scrapped after he pulled himself out of training the day before, citing leg pain.
As of Thursday, coach Sigi Schmid had listed Zakuani as 50-50 for the reserve match, but by late afternoon Friday, the club confirmed he would play.
He received a hand from the crowd at Starfire Sports Complex during introductions, and again on his first few touches.
As the minutes moved along, he had several nice touches in threatening opportunities.
*In the 21st minute he showed a nice burst of speed working his way between two Whitecaps defenders, but couldn’t quite chip keeper Brad Knighton from about 10 yards.
*In the 28th minute he made his familiar inside stutter-step move before darting out, but then shooting wide of the far post.
*Over the final minutes of the first half, he was knocked down three times – the third time hard enough where teammate Roger Levesque went over to deliver a word and a quick shove to Vancouver's Daniel Stanese. But in each case, Zakuani returned quickly to his feet and the match.
With a 45-minute milestone in his recovery behind him, he was subbed out in accordance with the pregame plan.
As for the game, Vancouver (3-1-1) scored on two headers by Danny Mattocks, while Dom Dismuke provided the lone score for Seattle (1-3-1) in the 81st minute.
Sounders FC returns to U.S. Open Cup action at 7 p.m. Tuesday, meeting Cal FC at Starfire. Their next MLS match is June 16 at Montreal.
The next Reserve League match is Aug. 6, when the Los Angeles Galaxy visits.81st minute:
GOAL Sounders. Dom Dismuke sweeps in a nice cross from Aaron Kovar.
72nd minute: GOAL Vancouver. Mitchell on another header, once again with too much space too close to the goal. Whitecaps, 2-0.
54th minute: One of the saves of the season by Andrew Weber, going down to slap away a one-on-one Darren Mattocks shot from close range.
Second half: ... has begun. Zakuani out, replaced by Michael Tetteh.
Halftime: Vancouver 1-0.
Zakuani presumably done for the evening, but we'll see.
In any case, it seemed a general encouraging return. I'm not sure he looks as fluid as he once did, but when he asked his body for a burst of speed, he seemed to get what he needed. Also, he got knocked down three times over the final few minutes of the half, yet seemed to weather that just fine too.
45th minute: Zakuani knocked down much harder this time. Enough where Roger Levesque comes over and has a word and shove from Vancouver's Daniel Stanese.
42nd minute: Zakuani knocked down for the first time. Appears frustrated at no call, but gets up fine.
28th minute: Another nice moment for Zakuani, as he makes the familiar inside move, darts out, but then shoots wide of the far post.
26th minute: GOAL Vancouver. Mitchell header from close range. Whitecaps, 1-0.
24th minute: Every now and then Christian Sivebaek does something jaw-dropping. Like just now, when he found a gear most guys just don't have, in shifting past the Whitecaps defense and managing to get away a cross just at the end line.
21st minute: Almost, almost... Zakuani shows very nice burst of speed working his way between two Whitecaps defenders, but can't quite chip keeper Brad Knighton from about 10 yards.
14th minute: Nice Weber save of short-range shot by Darren Mattocks.
First 10 minutes: Scoreless. Zakuani listed as midfield, but playing more like a forward alongside Estrada.
Kickoff: We're under way. Sounders in rave/rave; Whitecaps in white/white. No. 11 is back, and gets a nice round of applause on his first touch. At least one fan here in an Akron Zips T-shirt.
Introductions and anthem: First team coach Sigi Schmid gets -- and acknowledges -- a nice hand from the crowd as he walks across to the bench area.
Then -- in a minor international incident -- the Sound Wave neglected to play "O, Canada," an omission clearly noted by the Whitecaps.
Sounders reserves are 1-2-1; Whitecaps 2-1-1.
Lineups: For Seattle: GK Weber; D Seamon, Duran, Michael Gallagher, Jacob Beck; M Carrasco, Aaron Kovar, Sivebaek, Levesque, Zakuani; F Estrada. Reserves: Meredith, Jordan Schweitzer, Dom Dismuke, Tetteh, Cato.
For Vancouver: GK Knighton; D Klazura, Mitchell, Harvey, Tiebert; M Franks, Watson, Barbara, Salgado; F Nanchoff, Mattocks. Reserves: Alderson, Clarke, Irving, Tan, Stanese.
Pregame: Steve Zakuani is back on the pitch wearing his familiar No. 11 among the Sounders starters as they prepare for the Reserve League match against Vancouver tonight at Starfire. First kick is 6 p.m.
This will be Zakuani's first in-stadium public competitive appearance since suffering his horrific right leg fractures April 22, 2011, at Colorado.
We will keep this post open all even with updates on Zakuani's performance, the game result, and then hopefully some Zakuani reaction after the match.