Zakuani making progress in return from broken leg

Zakuani making progress in return from broken leg

Published Jan. 21, 2012 4:00 a.m. ET

Complex medical terms are now part of Steve Zakuani's vocabulary.

He rattles off terms like compartment syndrome, plantar flexion and dorsiflexion with ease, all too familiar with what the words mean after nine months of grueling rehabilitation to recover from a broken right leg.

The Seattle Sounders' young forward isn't completely back. He may never be the same dynamic winger he was before getting hauled down in a tackle by Colorado's Brian Mullan last April that resulted in a broken tibia and fibula and robbed Zakuani of most of his third Major League Soccer season.

But when the Sounders opened training camp on Friday, using the indoor facility at the Seattle Seahawks' headquarters due to snow that paralyzed the Seattle area, there was Zakuani on the field as a full participant. He even scored the final goal during a short scrimmage.


He still has a subtle limp and he can feel the stabilizing metal hardware in his right leg. But just being on the field Friday was another sign of progress for the 23-year-old.

''Obviously I'm happy to be playing again, playing to some degree and just to be out there again. ... I'm happy because it means I'm definitely in the home stretch, the last run. But the frustrating part is realizing just how far behind I am, not just in the group, but just myself from before I was injured,'' Zakuani said. ''It was OK to go through that, but I still think in realistic terms. Since I got that taste today I'm frustrated it's not the full thing.''

The full thing, as Zakuani puts it, might not come for quite a while. At the end of last season, Zakuani revealed he suffered compartment syndrome - a condition in which swelling cuts off blood flow to certain areas of the body - as a complication following 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 believes he would have returned by the end of last season had it not been for those complications. Instead, they've potentially changed the type of player Zakuani was and can be.

''I've told people it's not the fracture. That part of my leg is fine,'' Zakuani said. ''If I didn't have the compartment syndrome I would have been back the end of last season, which has added to the frustration - how it's going to affect my speed, and my turning and explosiveness that are key parts of my game.''

Last year was supposed to be the season Zakuani became a star. He already had two goals and two assists through the first six games. It was just three minutes into the match against Colorado when Mullan barged into Zakuani near the sideline. Mullan was suspended 10 games for the tackle.

Zakuani has no timeline for when he'll be back. It's partly his decision not to set any dates for his return, partly a determination by doctors based on his recovery.

Seattle coach Sigi Schmid estimated Zakuani was about 65 to 70 percent on the first day of training. Zakuani still refuses to watch highlights of himself from before the injury, not wanting to see the player he was and strives to be again, but knowing how difficult the road is to reach that level again.

''I still have the picture in my head of how I played before. So I try to do something that came so naturally before and right now I'm not able to do it because my mobility isn't there 100 percent, the strength in my legs isn't there 100 percent. Those things are natural (and) that's going to be frustrating,'' Zakuani said. ''There are going to be more bad days than good days in terms of my performance just because I'm trying to get back to that consistent base.''

Practicing without restrictions on Friday was a surprise to Zakuani, who only got the word from Schmid right before camp started. It'll be a staggered process, with downtime for recovery following stressful days like the first practice.

But for the first day, Schmid was pleased to see Zakuani back out there in a competitive atmosphere.

''I think right now he's got a good feel for how far he's come and how far he is away. I think he was a little frustrated at the end because he was hoping he might be closer. But I was pretty happy with where he's at,'' Schmid said. ''He knows what he needs to do now.''


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