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Mar 19, 2009

Team is relaxed on the eve of our debut

Editor's note: Seattle Sounders forward Steve Zakuani, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 MLS SuperDraft from the University of Akron, will be writing a rookie diary for ESPNsoccernet during the 2009 season.

With the opening game of the season Thursday (9 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN360), the city of Seattle is buzzing. Everywhere I go, I am reminded of the support the community is showing toward our team. From the guys in the barber shop to my neighbors, everyone is talking about our opening game against the New York Red Bulls. There's a lot of excitement, but within the team, the mood is very relaxed. We've gone through two months of preparation and feel that we're ready to make a good start to our season with a win.

One of the most exciting moments of our training camp was our recent trip to Argentina. We were there for 10 days and played some exhibition games against some opponents like River Plate. On this trip, I realized just how different the professional game is to the college one, not just on the field, but off it, too. For example, when I traveled with my college team, our schedule on the road was packed with meetings, team dinners, scouting reports and training sessions. We never really left the hotel other than to train, or to play a game. But with the Sounders, there are days when the only things we will do as a team is to eat breakfast and train. The rest of the day is free for us to do whatever we want.

In Argentina, most of the guys used their free time to go out and see the sights of Buenos Aires, or do some shopping. I usually spent my time playing video games (mainly Pro Evolution Soccer) against our Colombian forward, Fredy Montero. I probably would have done some more sightseeing, but I was carrying an ankle injury and had to stay back in the afternoon to do some rehab with the trainers, and some extra training sessions with our fitness coach. It was disappointing not being able to play in the games, or train with the guys, but it's better to be injured during preseason than midway through the actual season. With the help of our trainers, and our fitness coach, I feel almost 100 percent and should be able to play some part in the season opener.

On our return to Seattle, our roster was boosted by the arrivals of Pete Vagenas and Freddie Ljungberg, who had both been recovering from injuries on their own. On a personal level, it was great for me to be able to finally train alongside Freddie. Being an Arsenal fan, and having played in the team's youth system, he was always one of the players I looked up to, and so to train with him was an incredible experience.

MLS Primetime
March 19
New York at Seattle
Qwest Field, Seattle
9 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN360

One of the things I always do, before the first game of any season I play in, is to get a haircut with an image or design. In the past I have had a star in my head, and also an asterisk. This week, I had my barber put a spiral-looking design on the top of my head. Personally, I liked it, but when you're a rookie, you don't need to give your teammates much encouragement to give you some stick -- this haircut was the perfect opportunity for them to make fun of me. It was all in good fun, though.

So with two months of training behind me, a new haircut on board, and 32,000 fans ready to pack our stadium against the Red Bulls, it's time to finally experience my first game as a professional soccer player.

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