The question was only asked because there was nothing else to talk about. The press conference lasted all of 50 seconds.
The Portland Timbers had just crushed Guyanese side Alpha United 6-0 in front of one of their smallest home crowds ever since joining MLS in a midweek CONCACAF Champions League respite from the furious MLS playoff race with a team of backups. For the few journalists assembled in the basement press room at Providence Park, it was the most forgettable of forgettable nights.
So instead of asking about the game, someone asked a question about Steve Zakuani.
The prolonged absence of the former #1 MLS draft pick was growing more and more conspicuous. Not in a match-day squad since late August, Zakuani, a former starter, was nowhere to be found in this Champions League game – even with the team resting starters for weekend MLS games.
Turns out, there was something up.
The mention of Zakuani brought an immediately resigned air over a satisfied Caleb Porter. This coach and player have always been close – Porter coached Zakuani at Akron, where the Congolese international was named Soccer America’s College Player of the Year in his sophomore season. In many ways, Zakuani helped make Porter’s star.
When it became clear that Zakuani would be available in last offseason’s Allocation Draft, Portland traded up in the draft order to get him.
Eight months later, on this gray, drizzly night, Porter said, “He’s not healthy. He continues to pick up little strains. He’s got a groin strain right now, so for him it’s been tough.”
“He continues to have problems,” Porter said. “I don’t know if it’s biomechanics or what, but he continues to have problems with muscle strains. I think it stems ultimately from that broken leg, most likely.”
“We’re probably going to end up shutting him down for the season and figure out the next steps with him and his body, try to get him in to see a specialist.”
So that’s it. Zakuani is done for the year. And that’d be unfortunate enough, considering that Zakuani is a thoughtful and well-liked player on a competitive team that was once considered a transcendent talent.
But with this latest setback – after a season in which Zakuani was given every chance to thrive and played a measly, miserable brand of soccer – it’s hard to shake the idea that Zakuani’s career is ending.