BEAVERTON, Ore. – Steve Zakuani’s road back to full health has been one of fits and starts.
But after going 69 minutes against D.C. United last Saturday in his first start since late March and just his second since he joined the Portland Timbers over the offseason, the dynamic attacker – who is coming off two sports hernia surgeries - is hoping it’s full steam ahead from here on out. The Timbers host the LA Galaxy on Sunday (11:30 am PT, NBCSN, Free stream on NBCSports.com).
“I knew it would take awhile,” Zakuani said after a recent training session at the team facility. “The frustrating part was when I first came back to play against Colorado and I had some muscular pain in other areas. I just knew it wasn’t serious and that it’s a long season and that we’re doing the right things. Everyone has been patient, and I’ve been patient and it was a matter of time before I’d start playing.”
That Colorado game was Zakuani’s first start since April 20 of last year, and it resulted in him missing three of the next four games. But after a performance against D.C. United in a 3-2 victory head coach Caleb Porter called "dynamic," Zakuani is eager to be steady contributor.
“It was just the right timing,” Zakuani said. “I’ve been working hard to get myself healthy and to feel good, and for that game I felt pretty good and it was obviously good for the team to get a win. … I wasn’t really frustrated; it was just a case of staying positive and waiting for my time to come.”
Porter certainly is glad that time is finally here.
The second-year coach has previously cited the value of Zakuani’s one-on-one capability and ability to penetrate as a crucial component to his 4-3-3 formation. And with Rodney Wallace out for at least another month, Zakuani’s presence is crucial.
Porter said the four-pronged attack of Zakuani and Darlington Nagbe on the flanks, Gaston Fernandez up top and Diego Valeri serving as the attacking midfielder led to the Timbers’ most comprehensive offensive performance of the season, starting with a Fernandez goal just 34 seconds into the game.
“We’ve been working on it since preseason, since training camp, so it’s been coming,” Zakuani said. “And I think in that game, it just clicked. I think it helped getting an early goal. That was a big, big help, and that settled everyone down. But it’s been coming. And there have been games where we’ve been very good offensively … but that was the first time we put 90 minutes together.”
Zakuani said putting in close to a full shift without suffering a setback was not only big for his fitness but also confidence. And that’s good news for a squad that went winless in their first eight games and produced just eight goals in that span.
“It just takes awhile to get your feet back under you, so that was huge to play the amount of minutes I did in the last game,” he said. “That’s what gives you confidence and it just gets better from there and you start feeling sharper and you start feeling connected and you keep improving.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.