Dean Rutz/The Seattle Times
SEATTLE – There’s a slight limp and scars along the front of Steve Zakuani’s right leg from a number of surgeries.
Listening to the recovering Seattle Sounders’ midfielder talk, the physical changes are all he’s carrying forward from the ugly tackle last year by Colorado’s Brian Mullan that snapped Zakuani’s lower right leg. There appear to be no grudges toward a careless play made in frustration that cost Seattle’s young star more than a calendar year of his career.
“I think he understands what it cost me. You can see the scar. I have a massive scar on my leg. It’s a skin graph. Everyone knows it’s cost me a year of my career. There’s no getting around that,” Zakuani said after Thursday’s practice.
“He understands that, but I don’t like want to hold that over his head. I want him, especially (Saturday), to come in and play his game. Play the game. Let’s just play the game of football; let’s try to get a win, and then move on to the next week. That will be it. And then the day I play against him, it will be the same.”
Mullan and the Rapids played Seattle on Saturday, where Mullan was in the starting lineup and making his first appearance against the Sounders since his red-card tackle of Zakuani and subsequent 10-game suspension nearly a year ago. Mullan repeatedly has expressed his remorse for what happened, and those messages have reached Zakuani.
“I really, really, really do wish him the best,” Zakuani said. “I understand that as much as it affected me, it’s also affected him. It was a sad experience for both of us, I think.”
Zakuani still is a spectator, limited so far to a brief appearance in a reserve game earlier this month against Gonzaga when Zakuani played 45 minutes. It stands still as his only competition against another team since the injury in the opening minutes of the game last April 22 in Colorado.
Zakuani already had two goals and two assists through the first six games and was just 3 minutes into the match against Colorado when Mullan barged into Zakuani near the sideline snapping Zakuani’s tibia and fibula.
His recovery was lengthened when Zakuani suffered compartment syndrome – a condition in which swelling cuts off blood flow to certain areas of the body – as a complication after the surgery that stabilized the injury. He lost feeling in parts of his lower right leg, feeling that has yet to return nearly a year after the injury.
Zakuani said Thursday there still is no set date for when he hopes to be back into an MLS game. He had mentioned earlier in the year hoping to be back on the field in early summer.
“If I had felt good in March, I’d have played in March. If it’s going to be in July, it will be July. I just don’t know,” Zakuani said. “Obviously, I’m going to get in some reserve games coming up. I need those for fitness, which is the last thing missing. The leg’s fine and everything; I just don’t have the fitness. I’ve been out for a year, so it’s catching up one year with the guys, and that’s a long way to really be out and try to come back.”
Colorado issued a statement earlier this week that Mullan would not address the game in Seattle before Saturday but would answer questions in the locker room after the Rapids and Sounders meet for the first of three regular-season meetings.
There’s been some concern about what the reaction would be from the Sounders’ passionate fans, who paid tribute to Zakuani last season by holding up “11” placards at the 11-minute mark of some home matches. Those with the team universally said Thursday that what happened is in the past, and while Zakuani still has yet to make his return, fans should throw their support behind the team and not direct it at Mullan.
“I’m not worried. Our fans are passionate but I think sane. I’m more concerned with Steve Zakuani and getting him back on the field and our fans being able to appreciate the greatness that he can bring to our team as well,” Seattle general manager Adrian Hanauer said. “(I’m) more worried about getting three points on Saturday.”