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TUKWILA – Returning from a gruesome leg fracture requires much more than a healed bone.

Steve Zakuani has found that out this season, two years removed from a devastating injury that many fans around MLS — not just those in Seattle — would like to forget. His recovery has seen several setbacks, from a dangerous condition that caused nerve damage around the time of the injury to a lingering groin issue that required sports-hernia surgery in June.

A few steps back, but recently there was a big step forward.

Zakuani was on the bench last week against the Los Angeles Galaxy, marking the first time in five months he has been available for a game. The midfielder said he doesn’t know what his role will be going forward, particularly on the team he called “the best and deepest squad we’ve had,” but he’s ready to contribute.

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“From Day 1, when I came to Seattle, I’ve just played what the coaches ask me to play, whatever the team needs at that time,” Zakuani said. “Obviously the season has slipped by, most of it, but it is the key part of the year now, and it’s a good time to get healthy.”

During the mend, more has changed about Zakuani than might appear on the surface.

Fitness coach Dave Tenney has been a key figure in rehabilitation, and he said people have underestimated the damage of the broken tibia and fibula in Zakuani’s right leg. Most of the attention goes to the bones, but there was also trauma to the circulatory, nerve and muscle systems.

Recovery has involved even some of the most basic tasks.

“There are so many layers to all the stuff that he’s been through,” Tenney said. “It’s trying to relearn gaits and gait mechanics and ankle mechanics and leg drive and all those things.”

Gait mechanics — essentially the rhythm and motion of Zakuani’s walk, jog and run — have especially been an issue.

His motion post-injury is slightly different from when Zakuani was flying up and down the left flank as Seattle’s co-leading scorer in 2010. That has led to an abnormal amount of stress in the pelvic area, Tenney said, which led to a June 12 surgery to repair a sports hernia.

To prevent similar damage from happening, Tenney wants the speedy winger to think like a wide receiver in football and focus more on weight lifting, mechanics and technique in certain areas, like sprinting.

After another trying year, Zakuani’s happy to be able to finally compete in practice.

“I’m buzzing,” he said.

Teammates feel the same way.

“It’s good to have a person out there on the wing who can create stuff on his own and make our job easier in the box to score goals,” forward Eddie Johnson said.

Coach Sigi Schmid said Zakuani’s ability to come off the bench and contribute 15 to 20 minutes could be “very significant.”

Even having missed 22 games, Zakuani isn’t thinking of this as a lost year, just one with a few more detours.

“There’s still enough time to come in and play,” he said. “Last year was the same story — I came back at the very end, and I played in the last game against L.A…. and that gave me a big boost going into the offseason. It probably will be a similar story to that.”

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