When thinking about Steve Zakuani, people tend to fall into one of two camps. The optimists will look at how he played from 2010 until that horrific broken leg he suffered early in 2011 and see a player who was, quite possibly, the top attacking wide midfielder in the league. That Zakuani could race up and down the sideline and was always a danger with the ball at his feet.
The pessimists will point focus on the player who suited up for the Sounders for a grand total of 16 league appearances over the past two seasons and registered just one goal and two assists. That version battled one injury after another, most of them at least tangentially related to his broken leg (the second significant leg injury he's suffered in his career). They'll say that Zakuani is only a shadow of himself, and that's when he's healthy.
The reality, as it usually does, lies somewhere in between. There's little doubt that Zakuani still possesses much of the speed that made him such a dynamic player. At any given time in training sessions, he'd also flash those ball skills that made him so dangerous. The effortless stepovers that leave defenders stumbling over themselves; the quick-bust speed that allowed him to push the ball past the defender, catch up and still have time to put in a well-placed cross; the killer one-on-one shots that left goalkeepers grabbing at air.
Those are all skills he still possesses ... at times. You saw him show them off in that early game at CenturyLink Field when Zakuani picked up a loose ball, raced down the sideline and fed Eddie Johnson on that play that you've probably seen a million times on that adidas commercial.
The thing was, he was able to use those abilities so rarely because there always seemed to be an injury lingering. Sounders trainer Dave Tenney, one of the leaders in his field, explained on several occasions that one of the root causes of the recurring nature of his injuries was that Zakuani was forced to change his gate. That his body was still -- two years after the initial injury -- learning to cope. There's a very real chance that he'll never fully recover, which is a big reason why the Sounders even risked losing him for zero compensation.
There's also the bit that, even when Zakuani was at his absolute best, he was barely a midfielder. Zakuani cheated toward the offensive end so much that the Sounders were effectively playing with three forwards whenever he was on the pitch. That was a tradeoff that was worth it when he was averaging about .4 goals and .27 assists per 90 minutes during from 2010-11. It was more of a problem when he was averaging .11 goals and .22 assists per 90 from 2012-13.
Obviously, the Timbers are betting that Caleb Porter can help Zakuani get back to his old form and there's reason to believe that he former Akron Zip can fit nicely as a wide attacker in that 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 hybrid.
Empirically, I think most Sounders fans accepted that Zakuani was perhaps too expensive and too injury prone to rely upon. But this is a bitter pill, nonetheless. The outpouring of emotion Sounders fans showed Zakuani during his recovery and return was very real and provided two honest-to-goodness goosebump moments (I'll never forget the feeling in the stadium when fans did their "Steve" "Zakuani" call-and-repeat in the first home game after his injury, nor will I likely ever hear a louder eruption than when he made his return). At the same time, I think most of us will wish him well (while hoping this never comes back to haunt us).
We can only ask that you treat him well. He deserves it.