TUKWILA — Even as first-team minutes continue to elude Steve Zakuani, signs of his continued progress aren’t hard to find.
For the first time since suffering a devastating leg injury 16 months ago, the Sounders FC midfielder is no longer listed on the MLS injury report.
He also played 90 minutes for the first time post-injury in Sunday’s MLS Reserve League game against San Jose and has been on Seattle’s bench — albeit unused — in matches this month against Sporting Kansas City in the U.S. Open Cup final and the Los Angeles Galaxy in a high-profile MLS bout.
The next and final step? Regular playing time.
“I’m over the injury,” Zakuani said. “I don’t think about it anymore. I’m thinking about match fitness and match sharpness and getting my form, which is going to be tough, but I’m close.”
Progress has come at the cost of patience.
Zakuani made his long-awaited MLS return July 7 with a brief four-minute showing against the Colorado Rapids, but hasn’t seen any first-team action since. The 24-year-old started 57 of his first 64 games before the injury and admitted to being a bit antsy in the final stages of a long recovery.
“I was used to playing every game — and then it went,” he said.
Zakuani said his training is back to a high level, and being able to play every minute Sunday, even if it was with the reserves, caught the eye of coach Sigi Schmid. San Jose’s reserves won 3-0 while fielding an experienced team, but Zakuani made his mark.
“There were periods within the game where you could see his explosion,” said Schmid, “and I think that helped his confidence level, knowing that he could explode past people.”
Zakuani was just as pleased with his ability to participate in a full practice Tuesday following the grueling physical test Sunday. Schmid said the midfielder’s performance in training has put him at the forefront of the team’s attacking options off the bench.
And while the Sounders have another reserve game Sunday against the Galaxy, Zakuani hopes his involvement will primarily be Saturday in an MLS game with playoff implications against rival Vancouver.
“I think I’ve done well to get back to where I am now,” he said. “I’m very happy with how my training is going and... I just want to get out there and actually play in front of the fans at CenturyLink — hopefully sooner rather than later.”
• Midfielder Mario Martinez, acquired by the Sounders on loan earlier this month, is expected to join the team Friday.
Martinez will play with Honduras in an exhibition game in Miami Wednesday before coming to Seattle.