A major reason why soccer has been called “the beautiful game” is its international dimension, the idea of bringing people together from various cultures and life experiences throughout the world.
Steve Zakuani’s story falls into that dimension, a young man with international roots who followed his dream and is now one of the quickest and most productive strikers in Major League Soccer.
The Seattle Sounders star was born in Kinshasa in what was then Zaire and is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
“We moved to London when I was 4,” Zakuani revealed following a Sounders training session. “It was 1992. London is so international and there are so many Africans there that I became friends with many of them, as did my family members. In fact, some of my first soccer games were with African friends in London.”
Perhaps Zakuani was destined by the stars to become a soccer player. The family, after all, was based in North London. Steve grew up near White Hart Lane and the famous stadium that the Tottenham Spurs of England’s Premier League call home.
As events emerged, however, Zakuani was destined to forge an important link with another famous North London club, that being Arsenal. Those roots launched the beginning of Zakuani’s soccer career that would ultimately reach the professional ranks with the Seattle Sounders.
There is a reason why so many young stars are developed for the English Premier League. The talent watch begins from the time that youngsters begin playing in parks and at school.
Arsenal liked what it saw in the quick, smooth movements of the speedy young Zakuani and before long he was given a pivotal opportunity that forged the player MLS fans see today.
“When I was 9 I was contacted and given the chance to play on the Arsenal youth team,” Zakuani related. “They taught me the Arsenal way. These are the rules and lessons that I have followed ever since.”
What lesson has been sturdily etched into Zakuani’s mind and is being followed by him today?
“The big thing is that Arsenal taught you to be creative, to be positive,” Zakuani enthused.
One element instilled in Zakuani has distinctly followed him into his career.
“What Arsenal taught you was to have fun, to enjoy yourself playing soccer,” Zakuani enthusiastically noted. “When you attacked and moved the ball toward the goal you were told to move with style and grace and in a way where you were always enjoying yourself.”
When Steve became involved in the Arsenal youth program he became a fan of the English Premier League club. While he was rooting for Arsenal he watched one famous player that he would later meet as a teammate.
“My father and I would go to the Arsenal matches and I would enjoy watching all their great players,” Zakuani said. “I loved watching Freddie Ljungberg play. Later when he was a teammate of mine with the Sounders I told him about being in the stands and cheering for him.”
Zakuani participated in the Tilburg Tournament in Holland in 2002. He played at the Independent Football Academy from 2004 to 2007.
At that point a pivotal event occurred as Zakuani came to America to play for the University of Akron. As with the Arsenal youth team earlier, Zakuani proved to be a quick and effective learner. In his sophomore season he led the nation in scoring with 20 goals and seven assists.
He finished as a runner-up for the Herman Trophy awarded to the nation’s best soccer player.
Sufficiently alerted to Zakuani’s prowess, the Seattle Sounders made him their first choice, and initial selection overall, in the MLS 2009 Super Draft on January 15, 2009.
A sought after Zakuani had two offers to weigh, that of the Sounders along with one from a club in his home country of England with Preston North End. He chose Seattle and has performed there with distinction ever since.
Steve was a finalist in the Rookie of the Year balloting. He led all MLS rookies in scoring with four goals and that same number of assists. Coach Sigi Schmid said, “Steve’s a dangerous dribbler, comfortable on either side of the field with good speed.“
Zakuani’s momentum from that first season has continued to the present. In 2010 he has thus far scored seven goals and three assists. On May 1 at home against the Columbus Crew Zakuani recorded the earliest goal in franchise history with a strike in the fourth minute.
In one of the most important matches of the season for the Sounders, as they sought to build points for a playoff spot, Zakuani was at his peak against the Colorado Rapids July 25 before a capacity throng of the Seattle home faithful.
The determined striker set a blistering pace, scoring two first half goals in a 2-1 Sounders victory. He guided the ball with swift determination goal ward on each occasion.
The impressive performance gained Zakuani MLS Player of the Week honors, the first time that a Seattle player was selected during the 2010 campaign.
Since the interview with Zakuani had been conducted Friday following the team’s final workout of the week on the same field where the match was played that Sunday evening, and considering that the talented striker was feeling so optimistic, the natural question to ask after his triumph was whether it was something he anticipated.
“I felt good and the team had a great week of practice,” Zakuani smiled. “I thought that we would do well.”
Steve is not the only Zakuani to achieve professional soccer ranks. His older brother Gabriel is a defensive star with Peterborough United in England. Having played earlier for Fulham and Stoke City, the transfer signing fee to make Zakuani’s move to Peterborough United permanent was estimated to be over the 500,000 pound record signing fee that the club had paid earlier for Joe Lewis.
Along with flashing a smile of optimism over having the opportunity to fulfill his goal of playing professional soccer as a Sounder, Zakuani, who plays with an aggressive style and favors wide open play, is happy about current trends he sees in the game.
“People enjoy watching goals being scored and I think that the trend today is for more
open play,” Zakuani declared. “That was what I saw in the World Cup. Both Spain and the Netherlands like to attack. I expect to see more of this in soccer all over the world.”
As a Major League Soccer player Zakuani watched with interest the series of friendlies occurring with top professional clubs from the United Kingdom and Europe.
“Before when teams would come over here it was some team like Barcelona or Real Madrid and the scores would be something like 4-1,” Zakuani said. “But those were the leading teams and when we see the MLS teams go up against some of the others you can see that it is very close. The MLS is catching up. There is a high talent level in this league.”
Zakuani demonstrated his humanitarian side after revealing that at Akron University his major was Sports Management. How would he like to put his knowledge in that area to use?
“I would like some day to go home to London and start an organization” he revealed. “You know, I was very fortunate to get the breaks and receive the chance to develop my talents and go into professional soccer. Some of my friends who had plenty of talent did not get the right breaks.
"What I would like to do is to have an organization so I could be a part of helping young people get the chance to develop their talents to go as far as those talents can take them.”
Steve Zakuani not only impresses with his soccer playing talents. He also wins plaudits for his humanitarian outlook and desire to help others.