Zakuani’s Return to MLS, a Photographer’s Perspective
by Mike Russell
It’s a story suited for the big screen. Seattle Sounders were on their longest streak without a win in franchise history when Colorado came to town. Fan favorite Steve Zakuani had not played in an MLS match in over 14 months after suffering a broken tibia and fibula on April 22, 2011 when playing against Colorado.
Zakuani was on the bench ready to play. Brian Mullan, the Colorado winger who broke Zakuani’s leg with a horrific tackle, was starting for the Rapids. The stage was set. But the big question was, would Steve Zakuani get the call from coach Sigi Schmid to come in off the bench.
In the 86th minute, that question was answered and the fans welcomed Zakuani back with the most deafening noise imaginable. Words simply cannot describe the energy that erupted throughout the stadium as he strode onto the pitch.
It was a moment that both raised the hair on my arms and brought tears to my eyes.
I was shooting down at the Brougham End, in front of where the Sounders substitutes warm up. Before Steve got the call, you could tell that he was amped and itching to get out there. In between warm up exercises, he’d stand next to me with a firm hold on the advertising board, bouncing up and down, keenly watching the action on the pitch.
When the first two subs were made, my heart sank just a little each time, fearing that he wasn’t going to get called in. My attention was split between shooting the match and looking to see who was going in next.
Then I heard the remaining subs and training staff give Steve words of encouragement. I looked back just in time to see him put his game face on, grab a last swig of water, and head to the sideline to make his long-awaited and hard-fought return to professional soccer.
I don’t know if I will ever experience anything like that again. Probably not. The noise from the crowd – every single person screaming their heads off, Steve crouching at the sideline waiting for Mauro to come off. It was a moment like no other. And one which I’m certain everyone who was there will never forget.
What could possibly have made the night even better? Yep, the 9 game winless streak finally came to an end. The Sounders won, 2-1.