PORTLAND, Ore. – Portland Timbers midfielder Steve Zakuani today announced his retirement from professional soccer. Zakuani retires after a six-year professional career in Major League Soccer.
“This is hands down the toughest decision I've had to make in my life, but with all things taken into consideration, I have peace that it's the right one for me to make,” Zakuani said. “Not being able to consistently perform at the high level I'm used to was tough to deal with mentally, and the constant physical pain I was under from week to week also took its toll. Rather than play through aches and pains for the next few years, I've chosen to go on with my life because as much as I love the sport, my health has to come first.
“There are many people I could thank for the role they've played in my career, and the time for that will come. Right now, I want to thank the two clubs that I played for – the Sounders and Timbers – for giving me the opportunity to represent them and live my dream. It was a tough year for me in Portland, but the organization treated me very well and gave me tremendous support through my injuries and my decision to retire.”
Zakuani, 26, was the first-overall selection by Seattle Sounders FC in the 2009 MLS SuperDraft and joined the Timbers prior to the 2014 season. He appeared in 17 league matches (9 starts) and registered three assists during the year, notably scoring Portland’s first-ever goal in CONCACAF Champions League on Aug. 19 in a 4-1 win over Alpha United FC in Georgetown, Guyana. Zakuani’s time with Seattle and Portland was limited by a series of injuries over the past four seasons.
Zakuani, whom Portland acquired in Stage 1 of the MLS Re-Entry Process on Dec. 12, 2013, after trading up to a higher position and receiving defender Jorge Villafaña from Chivas USA, has been out since August after sustaining a groin injury.
“On behalf of everyone with the Portland Timbers organization, I would like to thank Steve for his time with us and for his contributions to the club, both on and off the field,” said Timbers general manager Gavin Wilkinson. “We fully respect his difficult decision and wish him all the best in his future endeavors.”
A native of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zakuani was raised in London, England, and was a member of the Arsenal FC Academy as a youth. Making his way to the United States for college, Zakuani was a standout player for two seasons under head coach Caleb Porter at the University of Akron in 2007 and 2008, leading the nation in scoring as a sophomore with 20 goals and 47 points in 23 games and earning the runner-up spot for the MAC Hermann Trophy in 2008.
“It’s unfortunate that a player in his prime is forced to retire because of a series of injuries, but this is the harsh reality of sports, and it’s too bad he couldn’t contribute to the Timbers this season the way he had in previous years,” Porter said. “No doubt Steve will enjoy great success in the next phase of his life, and we wish him all the best.”
Starting his professional career with Sounders FC, Zakuani appeared in 29 matches in each of his first two seasons in MLS, recording career-highs in goals (10) and assists (6) during the 2010 season and earning a call-up by the DR Congo National Team for an international friendly against Mali on Nov. 12, 2010. He saw his 2011 season end prematurely, sustaining a broken tibia and fibula in his right leg against the Colorado Rapids on April 22, 2011, just seven games into the campaign.