Once the Seattle Sounders’ first overall draft pick in the Major League Soccer (MLS) era, Steve Zakuani is staying as busy in retirement from professional soccer as one can be.
Zakuani is still involved with the club as a television broadcaster. He even has his own podcast, too.
He is a published author, has produced a documentary about his rough upbringing in England and is fully invested in his charity (Kingdom Hope), which raises money for college scholarships.
But coaching a downtrodden high school soccer program this spring?
It seemed like too much work.
But Zakuani is having a blast in his first season leading the Bellevue High School boys program.
The Wolverines won their first Class 3A state tournament game since 1981 when they edged Peninsula in a shootout Tuesday to advance to the quarterfinals.
And after winning just five matches a season ago, Bellevue is 14-0-3. It is one of the biggest turnarounds in the state in boys soccer.
“(Zakuani) has made all the difference in the world,” midfielder Carson Wachter said.
Even though Bellevue won just a combined 21 matches in the past four seasons under former coach Ron Feary, the team did return nine starters from last year’s 5-9 squad.
Zakauni, who spent five seasons (2009-13) at left wing for the Sounders, and scored the club’s first MLS playoff goal before suffering a career-threatening leg injury, decided to install a possession-oriented attack with the Wolverines.
“That is not really seen in high school,” Zakuani said. “They are such strong boys, they rose to the challenge. A lesser team would have said I was pushing them too hard. Not this team, they wanted to be pushed.”
Wachter estimated it took about two weeks of training before the Wolverines began understanding how to patiently pick defenses apart.
“Overall, we have good talent,” Wachter said. “And most of us kind of knew, and could see where all of this was going.”
Bellevue tied Inglemoor, 1-1, in Zakuani’s coaching debut, then ran off four wins in a row.
And the Wolverines just kept it going from there, winning the 2A/3A Kingco regular-season title and then the league tournament with a 2-1 overtime triumph over Interlake.
They have tallied 39 goals this season, and allowed a league-low 14 in their 17 matches.
“It is tough to say (why this has worked out so well),” Zakuani said. “What I brought, they needed, and that is someone to hold them to a standard they probably haven’t been held to before, in terms of how to train, how to take care of their bodies, how to recover in between games and just challenging them how to play.”