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Zakuani seizes dual role
by Ridge Mahoney, April 22nd, 2011 1:07AM

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TAGS:  mls, seattle sounders

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[MLS FRIDAY SPOTLIGHT] Amid all the discussion and debate about who should play where in Seattle’s attacking array, one element is left out because he’s usually in: Steve Zakuani.

He’s not guaranteed a starting spot, but he usually earns it. In his third season since leaving the University of Akron, Zakuani is the speedy, daring, aggressive winger who can blow open the back line to get in a cross or shot. Head coach Sigi Schmid occasionally will flip him from the left side (he’s a lefty) to the right and the option to come inside is always available.

The Sounders have won only one of six games (1-2-3) as they prepare to face defending champion Colorado Friday (9:30 p.m., FSC) at Dicks’ Sporting Goods Park. Zakuani thinks that record is deceiving and that pretty soon, Seattle will start converting ties into wins.

“Sometimes you think a point on the road is a point won, sometimes it is a point lost,” he said after a 2-2 tie in San Jose. “Tonight, this was a point lost for us. Tonight was a really good performance on the road against a really good team. When you come in, and played the way we played, you’re disappointed, because the three points was there for us to take.”

A 1-0 loss to Los Angeles in the season opener predicated a three-game stretch without a win that -- along with striker Blaise Nkufo’s abrupt departure just hours before the Galaxy game --  prompted speculation things were spinning out of control. Zakuani refutes that notion.

“We have a young team, a team that believes in itself, and a coach who always goes out to win,” says the 23-year-old Zakuani, who was born in Kinshasa, Congo, and raised in London and led the college ranks in goals (20) for Akron prior to signing with MLS for the 2009 SuperDraft, in which he was the No. 1 pick. “As long as my coach and my teammates and the organization are not panicking, I’m not going to panic. I just think we have a lot of talent on this team and eventually it’s going to turn around.”

Of his own accord, he’s determined to be more of a leader this year, which is a continuance of a zealous, demanding persona that emerged in 2010, particularly as the Sounders struggled through a rough first half of the season.

“I would say yes, and maybe I put it more on myself than [Coach] Sigi [Schmid] does,” he says. “It’s just one of those things where you grow. Last year was my second year and I was more vocal, more demonstrative than I was in my first year, and I think it’s the same thing my third season.”

In the last two games, Seattle has beaten Chicago, 2-1, for its first win of the season and last weekend snatched a point in Philly when Alvaro Fernandez nodded home a Montero cross in stoppage time; definitely “a point won,” in Zakuani’s terms.

Zakuani and O’Brian White lead the team with two goals apiece. Montero and Nate Jaqua have yet to net a goal. Last year he tied – with Montero -- for the team lead in league goals with 10, to go along with six assists.

Regardless of who he plays with, Zakuani wants to confirm his reputation as a goalscorer as much as a setup man.

“I should be able to score 10 goals this year and make other teams see me as a goalscoring threat,” he says. “Primarily I’m a midfielder and I’m supposed to give assists. It depends on the game, but I definitely feel I can contribute for this team more than I did last year. I want to keep progressing and I’m one of the guys who has been here all three seasons.

“We know each other pretty well and we like the coach and here in Seattle, this is a place I feel comfortable. I think I’ve built something for myself the past two and a half years and I’ve just got to keep going.”



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