By JOSHUA MAYERS
of The Seattle Times
TUKWILA, Wash. — Sounders FC’s reserve game provided first-class entertainment Sunday.
Midfielder Steve Zakuani scored two goals, his first time scoring in a game since April 9, 2011, and forward Sammy Ochoa scored a winner in the 90th minute to lead Seattle to a compelling 3-2 comeback win against the Los Angeles Galaxy’s reserve squad.
The match at Starfire Stadium also marked the first involvement of new acquisition Mario Martinez, who put in a productive 67 minutes.
But amid thrilling finishes and flashy debuts, the biggest story was Zakuani, who shook off a slow start and scored a pair of game-tying goals in the second half.
Was it a message to coach Sigi Schmid that he’s ready for regular first-team action?
“All I can do is make him maybe think that I’m a little bit more ready than he maybe thinks I am — that’s what I can do,” said Zakuani, who suffered a devastating leg injury 16 months ago. “Like I’ve said, I’ve been wanting to play for a long time, and I understand it’s a process, but games like today help my confidence and help show that I’m maybe not too far off.”
Alternating as a wide midfielder and a withdrawn forward, Zakuani had a number of scoring chances in the second half, and the crowd got on its feet for every one.
Zakuani rewarded the support in the 72nd minute, when he tied the score at 1-1 with a calm finish on a breakaway set up by midfielder Mike Seamon. His other goal came in the 84th minute, when a header was deflected to Zakuani in front of an open net for an easy finish, making the score 2-2.
As he notes the benchmarks amid a long recovery, Zakuani said his first goals didn’t carry any extra significance. He was more focused on winning the game and, on a wider scale, improving his match fitness and sharpness.
“I honestly would rather have had a full 90-minute performance and have not scored than to have had just (a good) 45 minutes,” Zakuani said.
So what did Schmid tell him after the game?
“He said he likes the guy he saw in the second half,” Zakuani said. “I agree.”
Assistant coach Ezra Hendrickson, who manages the reserves, added: “The first half wasn’t so good for him, but you’ve got to understand he’s still getting back into things. I think, personally, before the injury he was a top-10 player in this league, and I think he can get back to there, but it’s a process.”
There were other reasons for optimism Sunday as well, and much of that came from an encouraging performance by Martinez, who joined the team Friday. The 23-year-old Honduran was a spark on offense as he interchanged positions with Zakuani throughout the game and impressed with his playmaking and service on set pieces.
“He’s a kind of player that’s going to give defenders hell,” Hendrickson said. “He’s going to be good.”