Thursday, April 28, 2011
Posted: 12:42 p.m.
By Dave Zeitlin
Because of a scheduling change, the Philadelphia Union did not play a game this past weekend. But there was still a valuable lesson to be learned, one that was both humbling and haunting.
Soccer, Union defender Danny Califf summed it up, can change by the minute.
Over the weekend, two of Major League Soccers biggest stars suffered brutal, possible season-ending injuries. The first came Friday when Seattle Sounders striker Steve Zakuani fractured his tibia and fibula after one blink-of-the-eye-tackle from Colorado Rapids midfielder Brian Mullan. A day later, FC Dallas midfielder David Ferreira, the reigning MLS MVP, broke his ankle because of another rough challenge.
The devastating injuries to such classy players casted a dark shadow over MLS this week, and served as a cruel reminder just how very delicate soccer careers can be.
Before his broken leg, Zakuani, the top overall pick in the 2009 MLS SuperDraft, was on his way to becoming perhaps the leagues premier attacking player. Its hard to know for sure if and when he will return to form.
Its precious, Union assistant coach John Hackworth said. Its always precious. You never know when an injurys going to happen. You never know the last time you play, the last time you coach. You try to approach it like youre living the dream and hopefully it will last as long as possible.
Injuries, of course, are not exclusive to soccer. But as Califf pointed out, not many other sports change as quickly as this one.
And if you need any reminders about this, come out to PPL Park on Saturday and look to the visiting side of the field. There in the midfield, starting for the San Jose Earthquakes will be Philadelphia native Bobby Convey.
Once the shining beacon of American soccer, Convey was the youngest player ever signed by MLS in 2000 before becoming one of the faces of the U.S. national team in the run-up to the 2006 World Cup.
But the pride of Philly fell off the map after knee operations derailed his tenure with the English Premier League club Reading F.C. and forced him back to MLS in 2009, where hes been quietly trying to resurrect his career.
With the Quakes last year, a healthy Convey had a team-leading 10 assists.
I think last year was a significant step for him, said Union manager Peter Nowak, who has known Convey since 2004. I hope he continues to do that this season and beyond that, so he can be in the national team picture again.
The fact that Convey is no longer in the national team picture is interesting, considering hes only 27 years old. But much like former phenom Freddy Adu, it feels like hes past his prime because he burst onto the scene at such a young age.
Soccer, to be sure, can be a fickle, cruel business.
It seems like every year somebody new is touted as the next big thing, said Califf, who has been a part of the national team throughout much of his own career. Its rare to have guys that are the real deal for a long time. Its kind of a natural progression. Every time a young guy comes up, they want to put a label on him. I think its hard to do that. It puts a lot of expectations on a kid. You expect them to be able to handle the pressure and grow up, but theres no handbook written on how to deal with that stuff.
I think when a kid has a lot of expectations heaped upon him, even if he has talent, so much can go wrong. There are a lot of things he cant control.
As we were all reminded of this past weekend, when Zakuani and Ferreira crumpled to the ground, injuries are probably the biggest things out of players control. You cant stop them, especially when they come because of fierce tackles. You just have to plan to make speedy recoveries and then hope your career trajectory doesnt change. Too often, though, it does.
Certainly at any point, any kind of freak accident can happen, Califf said. Especially when you get older, you appreciate that time more. When you see things like this happen, you value on your time on the field.
Because who knows when everything will end? And even if it doesnt end, who knows when it will change?
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com and writes a weekly Union column for CSNPhilly.com. You can e-mail him at email@example.com.
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