|Date of birth||February 9, 1988|
|Place of birth||Kinshasa, Zaire|
|Height||6 ft 0 in (1.83 m)|
|2009–2013||Seattle Sounders FC||80||(17)|
|* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only and correct as of October 29, 2014.
† Appearances (Goals).
Steve Zakuani (born February 9, 1988) is a former Congolese association football player. Born in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), he grew up in London. After college in the United States, he was drafted by Seattle Sounders FC where he played between 2009 and 2013. Zakuani finished his career after one season with the Portland Timbers.
Zakuani played for the Arsenal youth academy but struggled finding a team as a teenager. He lost focus on soccer and made mistakes in his personal life that culminated in a potentially career ending injury when Zakuani and a friend crashed while riding a stolen moped. He eventually attended the University of Akron on a soccer scholarship and excelled athletically. In 2008, he was a finalist for the Hermann Trophy award for the top American university player and was named Soccer America men's collegiate player of the year.
Seattle Sounders FC were entering Major League Soccer (MLS) as a new club in 2009. The team selected Zakuani first overall in the MLS SuperDraft. He quickly became a fan favorite and was a finalist for MLS Rookie of the Year. In 2010, he had success in Seattle with ten goals while also debuting for the Congo DR national football team in a friendly. However, he suffered a leg injury in a 2011. The injury almost led to amputation and forced Zakuani to miss 15 months. He returned in 2012 but failed to recapture his early success. He retired after playing the 2014 MLS season with the Portland Timbers.
He played forward in college and as a winger professionally. Zakuani was known for his speed and ability to individually take on the opposing defenders while attacking. He credited his skills to the style learned at the Arsenal Academy. After making poor personal decisions as a youth, he seeks to assist young players through a non-profit organization he founded called Kingdom Hope.
Youth and college
Zakuani was born in Kinshasa, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) and moved to London at the age of four. His father, Mao Zakuani, moved his family to London for both political and professional reasons after receiving a job offer as a translator. The family switched homes often and lived with extended family for long periods. They eventually settled in north London in a neighborhood with other African families, where Zakuani attended White Hart Lane School.
At the age of nine, Zakuani earned interest from West Ham United's youth program. He later tried out for the youth team of Queens Park Rangers. In 1997, he joined the Arsenal Academy. Zakuani became cocky and brash while not focusing on schoolwork. He was eventually released by Arsenal. One of his friends stole a moped and the two crashed while riding it. Zakuani's knee and foot were severely injured and he was unable to play for 18 months. After losing interest in soccer and renewing his efforts in school, Zakuani was taken by his teacher and mentor, Paul Goodison, to watch motivational speaker and evangelist Myles Munroe. This caused Zakuani to recommit himself to becoming a professional player. Soon after, he unsuccessfully tried out for the senior teams of Queens Park Rangers, Wigan Athletic, AZ Alkmaar, and Real Valladolid.
He was noticed by the University of Akron while playing at a development center in north London called the Independent Football Academy. He chose to attend the university on a scholarship and went on to score six goals in his freshman season with the Zips. The performance led to a professional offer from Preston North End, but he had committed to Akron for his sophomore season. In 2008, Zakuani led the nation in scoring with 20 goals and 7 assists over 23 games. This led him to become a finalist for the Hermann Trophy; an award given yearly by the Missouri Athletic Club to the country's top college soccer player. He was only the second sophomore to be named Soccer America's men's collegiate player of the year for the season's efforts. He also played a portion of the 2008 USL Premier Development League season with the Cleveland Internationals, where he scored nine goals and made four assists in just 11 matches.
Seattle Sounders FC
Zakuani was selected by Seattle Sounders FC as the number one pick in the 2009 MLS SuperDraft on a Generation Adidas program contract. Offers from two English clubs were declined to sign with Major League Soccer since the deal allowed him to set money aside for future college tuition. Zakuani started 24 of 30 regular season games in 2009. He also started in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup final when Sounders FC became the second MLS team in league history to win the tournament in their first season. He provided a needed attacking presence from the wing and was third on the team with four goals. He was discussed as a the potential Rookie of the Year candidate due to his ability to help the team's attack. He led all rookies in scoring and assists but the award eventually went to Omar Gonzalez. As the season progressed, a local sports reporter noted improvement. Zakuani was learning to assist the team's defense when needed and increased his tendency to make attacking diagonal runs. MLS has more games than college and requires a high level of commitment throughout the season. With Zakuani already known as a top prospect, Sounder's coach Sigi Schmid wanted him to improve his decision making on the field and increase his fitness before the next campaign. He underwent surgery after the season to address a shoulder injury that had limited his ability to play the full 90 minutes per game.
In his second professional season, Zakuani scored ten goals in league competition to tie with Fredy Montero for the team lead. He also made six assists. He was named MLS Player of the Week twice. The first was after recording both goals in a 2–1 win over Colorado, and the second was awarded for a both a goal and an assist in a 2–1 victory over Chivas USA. His goal against Chivas came after beating four players and calmly putting the ball in the net. Fans around the league voted it the Goal of the Week. He also won the honor for a goal against Toronto FC that saw him perfectly time a break past the defensive back line for a one-on-one situation with the goalkeeper. He recorded the fastest goal in club history with a fourth minute tally against the Columbus Crew that bettered the previous record he set the season before. Zakuani was again in the starting lineup when Seattle won the 2010 U.S. Open Cup final to become the first team since 1983 to repeat as Open Cup champions. On November 7, 2010, he scored the Sounders' first ever playoff goal in a 2–1 loss to the Los Angeles Galaxy. He received his green card after the season. MLS limits the number of international players available to each team and receiving permanent resident status exempted him from the cap.
Zakuani scored two goals and had two assists in his first six appearances of the 2011 season. On April 22, 2011, three minutes into a game against the Colorado Rapids, Zakuani suffered a broken leg from a harsh challenge by Brian Mullan. His tibia and fibula were fractured. He was airlifted to the hospital and underwent surgery the same day. During recovery, doctors feared that his leg would require amputation during recovery due to compartment syndrome. The concern was created by a lack of blood flow that hurt the nerves connecting the area to his foot. Mullan initially defended the tackle saying that he would make the challenge again. He later apologized in the face of increasing scrutiny. He received a 10-game suspension and a $5,000 fine while Zakuani missed the remainder of the season. The injury was one of several to key players throughout the league that year. This led to discussion of MLS play being aggressive to the point of "thuggery".
On July 7, 2012, Zakuani made his return after 15 months in a match against Mullan and the Rapids. His return as a substitute with five minutes left in the game was met by emotional cheers from the fans. Having already publicly forgiven Mullan, the two hugged and exchanged shirts after the whistle. Within two months, he appeared to further his recovery with an assist against FC Dallas and then a goal versus the San Jose Earthquakes. He finished the 2012 season with one goal in 320 minutes over eight matches and went on to play in three playoff games before the team was eliminated.
During the 2013 season, he made only nine appearances across all competitions before being sidelined with a sports hernia. In that time, he recorded one assist in league play, while also assisting in the game-winning goal against Mexico's Tigres UANL in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals. He was eventually placed on injured reserve and underwent two surgeries, performed on each side of his groin. This effectively ended Zakuani's five year career with the Sounders as his contract was allowed to expire. Overall, he started in 67 of 78 appearances in league play. At the time, he was the club’s third-leading scorer with 17 goals.
On December 12, 2013, Zakuani was selected by the Portland Timbers as the number two pick in the MLS Re-Entry Draft; a yearly draft that allows teams to select players who are out-of-contract or have had their options declined by their current teams. The Timbers traded up in order for the opportunity. While his pay was cut by $60,000 to $120,000 a year, he was reunited with Porter, his former Akron coach who had become the Portland manager. Zakuani was expected to receive additional minutes immediately since first-choice winger Rodney Wallace recovering from injury. He appeared in the Timbers opening match of 2014 against the Philadelphia Union as a substitute in the 85th minute. The Sounders and Timbers are fierce rivals and the teams met in the 2014 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. Zakuani was able to assist former college teammate Darlington Nagbe in the team's sole goal during the 3–1 loss to his previous club. Zakuani scored his first goal as a Timber on August 19, 2014; scoring the opening goal in a 4–1 win over Alpha United in the 2014–15 CONCACAF Champions League. However, after the match Porter spoke to the media about the need to bench Zakuani due to his persistent muscle strains.
2014 was disappointing with a final tally of no goals and only three assists. On October 29, 2014, Zakuani announced his retirement in a blog post. Having only one goal and five assists in the previous three seasons, he cited his difficulty in recovering from numerous injuries. He had lost much of his precision, pace, and confidence since being hurt. Retiring at the relatively early age of 26 after such initial promise led Sports Illustrated to describe his career as a "roller coaster".
Zakuani was eligible to play for both Congo and England. He considers London his hometown but still sees himself as Congolese. Of his five siblings, older brother Gabriel Zakuani currently plays for Peterborough United in England and is a member of the Congolese national team. He might have been able to play for the United States if granted citizenship. He expressed interest in representing the Congolese national team early in his professional career, while He considered his chances at England "a long shot". Later in his career, he expressed interest in the United States saying, "of the three, I prefer the States as this is where I made my name as a player".
In 2010, he accepted a call up from Congo for a friendly match against Mali. In a press release made at the time, Zakuani called it the highest honor of his young career. It was a challenging decision for him but the wait to become eligible for the United States was too long. The game was held in Dieppe, France in November 2010. He started the match and came off with his side winning at the half. Mali rallied in the second to give Congo a 3–1 loss.
He was a right-footed player who preferred being on the left of the field. He played on the left wing in a 4–4–2 formation with Arsenal and then was a forward in college before converting to a winger professionally. Zakuani says that he played with a style he learned at Arsenal's youth academy, and that he tried to emulate the play of former winger Robert Pirès. He also often sought advice from former Arsenal star Freddie Ljungberg when they played together in Seattle. Zakuani was a quick and agile player who liked to take defenders one-on-one. While coaching him at Akron, Porter said that many of his goals came after long runs that beat multiple players.
As a teenager in London, he began "mixing with the wrong crowd." Zakuani was distracted from playing by girls and parties. He said in an interview: "A lot of the people I grew up with ended up in prison, taking drugs, and never made it to university." He has strong feelings about the increase of knife crime in London since one of his friends was killed. In 2010, he founded the non-profit organization Kingdom Hope to run youth soccer camps in the greater Seattle area. He remembers being focused on soccer instead of education in Europe, so the organization is focused on providing collegiate scholarships to young athletes. Zakuani has said that his ultimate goal is to open an academy to teach life coaching and soccer to teenagers to be a "bridge between talent and actually making it".
- As of November 3, 2014.
|Club performance||League||Cup||League Cup||Continental||Total|
|USA||League||Open Cup||League Cup||North America||Total|
|2008||Cleveland Internationals||USL Premier Development League||11||9||-||-||-||-||-||-||11||9|
|2009||Seattle Sounders FC||Major League Soccer||29||4||4||0||2||0||-||-||35||4|
Seattle Sounders FC
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