Before recent injuries, Steve Zakuani was one of the most dynamic young attackers in Major League Soccer.
Until Thursday, he was one of the most popular Seattle Sounders.
Now he is a member of the Portland Timbers.
On a day filled with news for followers of the Timbers, none was bigger than Portland acquiring Zakuani. To get the former Akron University star — who in 2009 was the first player drafted by the Sounders franchise — the Timbers traded away defender Andrew Jean-Baptiste.
Jean-Baptiste went to Chivas USA for midfielder-defender Jorge Villafana and the No. 2 selection in Stage 1 of the MLS re-entry process. The Timbers used that pick to grab Zakuani after DC United selected L.A. Galaxy defender Sean Franklin with the first pick.
In his first two seasons with the Sounders, Zakuani was an emerging star. In 2010, Zakuani shared the Sounders’ lead with 10 goals and also had six assists.
But early in the 2011 season, he suffered a broken right leg on a nasty tackle by Brian Mullan in a game at Colorado. He returned to action 15 months later, playing in eight games in 2012 and scoring one goal. This year, sports hernia surgery limited him to eight games.
On Twitter Thursday, Zakuani said, “My only goal is to remain healthy so I can fulfill my potential. That’s what drives me. I want to prove to myself that I can do it.”
Zakuani and the Timbers’ Darlington Nagbe are good friends who were teammates for one season (2008) at Akron. Timbers Ben Zemanski and Michael Nanchoff were also on that Akron squad, which was coached by Timbers coach Caleb Porter.
Born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zakuani played in the academy of English Premier League club Arsenal FC for six years, starting at the age of nine.
On Twitter, Zakuani thanked Seattle for their support and expressed excitement about the opportunity to be a teammate with Nagbe.
To get Zakuani, the Timbers parted with one of their own talented young players. Jean-Baptiste, 21, played in 31 league games (26 starts) over two seasons in Portland, recording two goals and one assist. In 2013, he appeared in 26 regular-season games. His stoppage-time goal on July 13 gave Portland a dramatic 2-1 win over Los Angeles.
Selected No. 8 overall in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft, Jean-Baptiste saw regular action through the first two-thirds of the 2013 season, but did not play in the final six regular-season games and four playoff games after Futty Danso and Pa Modou Kah settled in as Porter’s preferred central defenders. Jean-Baptiste was on the MLSSoccer.com website’s 2013 list of the best 24 players in the league younger than 24.
In addition to the chance to nab Zakuani, the Timbers acquired another player with a connection to Porter. A left back and leftside midfield player, Villafana played under Porter with the United States under-23 national team in the 2012 Olympics qualification tournament.
Now 24, Villafana has been with Chivas USA for seven seasons, producing seven goals and six assists in 86 MLS games.
o The Timbers announced on Thursday that forward-midfielder Rodney Wallace had successful surgery to repair right knee injuries suffered during the final playoff game against Real Salt Lake. Wallace is expected to be sidelined for five to seven months.