Happier and healthier days for Steve Zakuani
Being an Arsenal fan, I am a bit sensitive to broken legs on players I love. I haven't been watching the Gunners long enough to see the laundry list, but I did get to watch Ryan Shawcross's brutal tackle on Aaron Ramsey. We're now more than a year on from this assault, and Ryan "Not that kind of guy" Shawcross has earned a spot of David Hirshey's Worst XI in the EPL while Ramsey has yet to get back in form for Arsenal's first team.
I got a brutal reminder of what such nasty tackles look like on Friday night when the Sounders' very own Steve Zakuani had his tibia and fibula snapped in half (warning: link shows the brutal carnage, including some pretty gruesome slow-mo of the leg post hit). And here's the weird Arsenal six degrees of separation involved in this incident - Zakuani, a product of the Arsenal Academy, was taken out by Brian Mullan of the Stan Kroenke-owned Rapids. Yes, that Stan Kroenke. There's also the inevitable "he's not that kind of guy" commentary we Arsenal fans are used to hearing - perhaps it's something we Sounders fans should get used to. It's nice to see that Brian Mullan is doing everything possible to demonstrate he's not that kind of guy (emphasis mine, although I am not the first to make the observation):
"It was never my intention to injure him in the least. It's a tackle that I've done hundreds of times and would probably do again. I had no intention of hurting him. It's a freak, freak thing, and I apologize and wish Steve a speedy recovery."
Sounder at Heart has some advice for Mullan, and he should heed it. It's not like he didn't exhibit guilt in the video replay, where you can clearly see Mullan size up Zakuani and take out his frustrations from an earlier non call on his leg. With both feet. Studs up. But he's not that kind of guy.
Enough with the dirty tackle stuff. This blog is about statistics, and here are Steve's:
- 2009 (rookie season): 4 goals and 4 assists, making him a finalist for rookie of the year.
- 2010: 10 goals and 6 assists, which allowed him to share the team's golden boot with Fredy Montero. Half of those scoring contributions came in the critical back half of the season, where he and Montero led the Sounders back from the near bottom of the table to the fourth playoff seed in the West.
- 2011: In six games he had already scored two goals and two assists.
The most important statistic is this one: Seattle's first ever draft pick and #1 overall pick when Seattle entered the league in 2009. He wasn't the first Sounder - guys like Roger Levesque who were holdovers from the USL side and new players like Kasey Keller were signed well before the first season. But those guys don't represent the sacrosanct "first pick" in American sports. As in most other US sports, MLS allocates their college and non-academy players via a draft. These players represent the eternal hope of team getting lucky and finding a franchise player that plays for them at an early age and from day one. Along with Montero, Steve represents the long term future upon which the club is built.
Beyond his on-pitch performance, Steve also served as spark plug elsewhere in the team. Steve's one of the most loved players on the Sounders. He has a huge heart for the team, the city, and the supporters. He's a humanitarian with few equals. He's always sporting a wonderful smile no matter the occasion and leads the response to any huge plays by he and his teammates. His face is so central to the team that a picture of him in post-US Open Cup celebration was all that was used for the banner ad for season tickets this off-season. Talk all you want about DP's on the Sounders (we've had our fare share of them), but this is the guy who makes the offense tick statistically and emotionally. His absence will be felt by everyone on the pitch and in the stands.
Realistically, Steve's season is over and his career may never be the same. We all hope that he works his way back in to the same form as he was in to start this season, but the realistic part of me accepts that he may not. Up until Friday night this had been an over two year journey for him and the team to get into the form he's demonstrated. It's been more than his individual talents, and has relied a good bit on rhythm and experience with other teammates he's been around for more than two seasons now. He was hitting stride this season, one I've highlighted as do-or-die for this crop of Sounders in a previous post. Who knows what teammates he'll come back to next season.
Regardless of his ability to come back and play, Steve deserves our love and support right now. Hopefully he'll be able to draw strength from the team and supporters who are already planning tributes to him at the next home match, and maybe a last little bit of inspiration from Charlie Davies who's faced a similar horrific injury and has come back from it to lead the golden boot competition early in this season. Sounder At Heart has the priorities straight, ones we should all keep in mind. Get well Steve - we can't wait for you to be trending on Twitter again for a reason other than an injury!