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Winning the best way for Seattle to honor Zakuani

By Tim Keeble, Soccer Editor

MLS Features Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Since joining Major League Soccer prior to the 2009 season, fans of Seattle Sounders FC have more than done their part in support of their club.

Routinely packing over 35,000 fans into Qwest Field for home games, the Sounders have been one of the most well-supported teams in the league for the past two-plus seasons. But even they outdid themselves on Saturday night against Toronto FC.

When the clock in the stadium hit the 11:00 mark of the match, the 36,287 fans in attendance all stood and raised placards with the number 11 on them in honor of winger Steve Zakuani, while also chanting his name for the duration of the 11th minute.

Zakuani, who wears jersey number 11 for Seattle, and who suffered a horrific fracture of his right tibia and fibula last week against the Colorado Rapids, was watching it all from a hospital bed as he begins his recovery after surgery.

The 36,287 fans in attendance all stood and raised placards with the number 11 on them in honor of winger Steve Zakuani.
He was so moved by the gesture, he tweeted this after the match: "Experienced the most emotional 1 minute of my life today."

Emotional is a good way to describe the past week for the 23-year-old, who was injured by a challenge from Colorado's Brian Mullan.

It was one of those moments where the commentators tell you to look away if you are squeamish prior to showing a replay of the incident.

Zakuani was airlifted to the hospital for treatment and he will miss the rest of the season.

Tributes have poured in for the London-born Zakuani, but maybe the best way that Seattle's players can honor their fallen teammate is to continue to have the kind of success that the team has enjoyed over the past month.

Expectations were high entering the season with Seattle having reached the playoffs in each of its first two seasons in the league. But after a pair of 1-0 defeats to open the campaign, questions were raised.

The abrupt retirement of former Switzerland international striker Blaise Nkufo just prior to the start of the season was puzzling, while fellow striker Fredy Montero has been battling a wrist injury and struggling to find the form that has made him one of the most dangerous strikers in MLS over the past two seasons.

With the offense failing to score in each of its first two games, it was Zakuani who stepped up the most, scoring two goals and assisting on two more in Seattle's next four games to help the team claim six points.

The Sounders' first pick in the 2009 SuperDraft, Zakuani has emerged as arguably one of the best wingers in MLS with his pace and ability on the ball, but his absence will leave a big void to be filled.

Brad Evans did quite well on Saturday with two goals and an assist in place of Zakuani. And although he is a good crosser of the ball, Evans lacks the explosion out wide that Zakuani possesses, which will force Seattle to alter its attack.

Improved play from Montero would be a big help, while midfielders like Alvaro Fernandez and Osvaldo Alonso will also be counted on to step up.

Seattle certainly put in its most impressive performance of the season on Saturday against a subpar Toronto team, but part of the reason for such a strong effort can be traced to the emotion in the stadium that evening that no doubt gave the players a boost.

"I sort of got myself caught looking around and almost forgetting about the game a little bit," Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said after the match. "I've been texting Steve back and forth and the one thing he kept reiterating is he didn't want the focus to be on him, he wanted it to be on the team. That's the kind of guy he is. I was thinking, 'Steve, don't be angry right now.' Because we are focused on this game and on the win."

Saturday gave Seattle fans a chance to show their appreciation and support for Zakuani, and they didn't disappoint.

But now the team must turn its attention back to not only reaching the playoffs for a third successive time, but winning its first playoff series, which would be the best way of all to honor Zakuani.

Comments? Criticism? Applause?
Contact Tim Keeble at tkeeble@sportsnetwork.com.

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