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PRO SOCCER: Sounders pick Zakuani No. 1

This may be a match made in heaven.

Goal-scoring forward Steve Zakuani was excited to hear his name called by Sounders FC on Thursday not only because it made him the No. 1 pick in the MLS SuperDraft, but also because he’s looking forward to the weather in Seattle.

“The main thing I heard was the weather was like London,” Zakuani said. “I was excited about that, and that’s the main thing I knew. That’s all it took for me.”

Zakuani was born in the Congo, but he grew up in London and played with the Arsenal youth team from 1997-2003 before going on to star at the University of Akron.

“Anybody who’s seen Arsenal play knows they play probably the most attractive style in the world,” Zakuani said. “I grew up under that tutelage for five years, they drummed in me the principles that I still use today and I traveled around the world with them to some major tournaments and played against some of the best players in England week in and week out, and some of the best players in Europe, and that’s really where I got my soccer education in the early years.”

A knee injury clouded Zakuani’s club career in London, and that led to him taking his skills to the States. He settled at Akron, where he became a freshman All-American his first season and led the nation in scoring last season.

That goal-scoring instinct is one of the reasons why the Sounders were as excited about the selection as Zakuani was, and why they turned down admittedly tempting trade offers to grab him.

“He has a huge upside,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “He’s got qualities that you can’t teach. Players are either comfortable on the ball or they’re not – they have an ability to run at people with the ball. He’s got the abilities, he’s got goal-scoring instincts … he’s got the potential to be very very special. And when you have a chance to nab a player like that, that’s something that we definitely have to do.”

With their other picks, the Sounders selected Wake Forest defender Evan Brown in the second round, Azusa Pacific defender Jared Karkas in the third, and Harvard forward/midfielder Michael Fucito in the fourth.

Only Zakuani – as a Generation adidas selection – already is under contract, for a reported $150,000 to $200,000. General manager Adrian Hanauer said the organization has been in contact with the other three and he expects them to sign.

“We strengthened our team yet again,” Hanauer said. “We feel like we had a great draft. ... In terms of some of the characteristics we have been looking for – speed, a good engine, exciting players, players that attack – we feel like we did extremely well.”

The four college players will join goalkeeper Kasey Keller, designated player Freddie Ljunberg, former USL Sounder Sebastien Le Toux, Gambian midfielder Sanna Nyassi and the 10 players picked up in the expansion draft.

Schmid said that group will be augmented by a few planned international signings. Then he will be ready to take the team off of the drawing board and onto the field when training camp begins Wednesday.

“Looking at it on paper we don’t feel there are any holes,” he said. “But once you get out there in the grind of training, once you see how the chemistry is, how it works together, that’s when the coaching staff will be able to determine (if) we need a little bit more here, we’ve got a little bit too much here, maybe there’s a trade that comes down the line or we need an additional player that we’ve got to find. But right now … I think we’ve got pretty good balance. I think if we walked into training tomorrow and with 22 players played 11-vs.-11, I think we could field two good 11-vs.-11 sides that would have all the positions covered.”

Extra time

Other players of local note taken in the SuperDraft include Tacoma native Rafael Cox, who was selected to Real Salt Lake in the middle of the fourth round. Cox played with the University of Washington and the Tacoma Tide. Another Husky, midfielder George John, was taken as the 14th overall pick by FC Dallas. … Also on Thursday, the Sounders announced that all home and away matches will be broadcast on KIRO 97.3-FM. As part of the agreement, a weekly 30-minute show devoted to Sounders FC will air on sister station ESPN Seattle 710-AM, which will shift to an all-sports format in April.

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