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Steve Zakuani Tallies Twice, Seattle Sounders Edge Colorado 2-1

Bill HareCorrespondent IJuly 26, 2010

WASHINGTON - JULY 15: Steve Zakuani #11 of Seattle Sounders FC controls the ball against  Andy Najar #14 of D.C. United at RFK Stadium on July 15, 2010 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Ned Dishman/Getty Images)
Ned Dishman/Getty Images

It was a sunny and relaxing early Friday afternoon in Seattle and behind the smile and energetic speaking manner, one could tell that Steve Zakuani was primed for a major effort.

Looks proved prophetic in this case as Zakuani used his blistering speed to put himself in goal territory, tallying twice in the first half as the Seattle Sounders scored their first win this season against a Western Conference foe with a 2-1 victory over the visiting Colorado Rapids before 36,333 at the Xbox Pitch of Qwest Field Sunday night.

In a happy Sounders dressing room following the match, Zakuani was sporting another big smile, this one of fulfillment and accomplishment after arguably the team’s most crucial win of the season, one that propels Sigi Schmid’s team into the thick of the MLS playoff fight.

Zakuani was asked about his buoyant spirit Friday afternoon and whether he had a premonition of a Sunday-night surge.

“I’d had a very good week of practice,” Zakuani smiled, “and the team had a good week as well. I just sensed that we were ready and believed that we were going to do very well.”

The three points that Coach Schmid regarded as so crucial for his team to acquire brought the Sounders to a mark of 6-8-5. The team has earned 23 points, just one less than fourth place Colorado.

There were some strange statistics arising out of the game from both sides of the competitive aisle. While the Sounders broke the ice in notching their first win this season over a Western Conference rival, all five of Seattle's previous MLS wins had not only been over Eastern Conference rivals; every victory was by shutout.

Even more staggering to the imagination: In the last four seasons, the Colorado Rapids are 0-48-16 in matches where the opposition has scored first.

All three goals came in the first 17 minutes with the remainder of the contest being a tough and physical defensive battle. It was a propitious evening for sturdy Swiss national midfielder Blaise Nkufo to make his MLS debut.

Nkufo continues to make strides toward reaching peak fitness level since joining the team. He put in 70 minutes of solid play and was relieved by Nate Jaqua. Two other crunch-time substitutions that provided freshness for the Sounders at a critical moment of the match were Michael Seamon for Nate Sturgis at the 74-minute mark and Roger Levesque for Sanna Nyassi at 81 minutes.

The scoring began when Zakuani brought the Seattle faithful to their feet with Zakuani’s opening score. It came after Fredy Montero fought through the Colorado defense. Zakuani picked up the loose ball and sent a 15-yard strike that bounced off the left post, hit a diving Matt Pickens and landed in the net.

The Sounders had no time to celebrate their good fortune. No sooner had they broken through than the Rapids stormed back, moving quickly downfield for an equalizing score on a left-footed drive into the upper left corner in the ninth minute from Omar Cummings. Seattle television and radio commentator Arlo White called it “one of the top goals of the year.”

The 1-1 deadlock did not stand for long. Seattle regained the lead in the 17th minute on Zakuani's second goal of the night. Montero split the defense with a ball to Sanna Nyassi, who accelerated into the right side of the box before sending the ball into the crease for Zakuani to put home from point-blank range.

Zakuani now has a team-high seven goals. Montero, meanwhile, leads the team with eight assists, one short of tying the team record. Nyassi has been productive in the assist department as well, with two in the past two games.

Colorado fought tenaciously the remainder of the way to achieve a tying goal, but a sturdy Seattle defense shored up by the return of previously-injured players was able to hold off the invaders.

Kasey Keller preserved the lead with three saves, including a fingertip save on Conor Casey's header in the 20th minute and a diving save on Jamie Smith's backheel in the 61st minute.

After the match, Keller expressed praise for the team’s defensive effort. He cited in particular the effort to hold talented Colorado striker Conor Casey, his team’s leading scorer, without a goal.

It was Casey who scored the lone tally of the first meeting between the teams in Colorado in a 1-0 shutout of the Sounders.

“Conor Casey is a load,” Keller said. “In fact, he should have been named to the U.S. World Cup team.”

The busy Sounders schedule continues Wednesday night at 7 p.m., when Seattle will host El Salvador's Metapán in the CONCACAF Champions League play-in series. 

The Sounders return to MLS play on July 31 at San Jose, then continue on to San Salvador for the return leg with Metapán on August 3.

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