There’s been a lot of talk now that the 2013 MLS regular season is reaching its conclusion as to who the MLS Comeback Player of the Year should be. Many fans are of the agreement that perhaps it should go to Conor Casey, the bruising Philadelphia target man who looked like his career was reaching the end after an Achilles injury in 2011. His form was affected greatly by this in 2012 when at Colorado, reduced to the bench for the team where he spent five years of his career. Casey entered the re-entry draft where he was picked up by Philadelphia in 2013 and now has 10 goals and five assists. He has had a tremendous season no question. It is clear that returning from an injury that can potentially damage the rest of your career is highly commendable and Casey deserves all the recognition he is getting.
The former US international’s comeback is one at a time where his ability to put the ball in the back of the net was questioned. How about this though, what about if your physical and mental health was in question? What about if the life of a close relative to you was in question? Combine this with the everyday pressures of being a professional soccer player and to then rise up and have the possible chance of a Hollywood ending by lifting the MLS Cup on December 7th. Two players plying their trade in Boston have been in these exact scenarios in 2013.
Matt Reis has been played in MLS for 16 years with 11 of them spent at New England Revolution. On April 15th Matt Reis was standing by the finishing line at the Boston Marathon with his seven-year-old son to watch his wife Nicole cross the finishing line. Also in the crowd was John Odom, Reis’ father-in-law. John Odom was to take damage from the Boston Marathon bombings. Matt Reis was involved in a very traumatic experience, helping to deal with John Odom’s critical condition. Reis was to not be part of the squad for the next two games as him and his family did everything they could to support John in his recovery. It was reported he had eight or nine surgeries. Five months later after being hospitalised and given physical therapy, John returned to his home in California. John was a survivor.
It was a time of crisis for Reis and his family, the 38 –year-old’s position at New England was already in question with the emergence of Bobby Shuttleworth. Reis has only made 11 appearances so far this season but has been back in the starting line-up since the 17th August, starting nine times. Reis is a solid, dependable goalkeeper – one who will not necessarily make the headlines but has been key to New England’s regular season form of recent weeks. It has probably been the toughest few months of the veteran’s life who mentally must have struggled at times, luckily for Reis he has a very good chance of ending the year on a high.
A teammate of Matt Reis – Kevin Alston has always been considered one of the league’s most promising right backs. A player with a vast amount of pace who is perfectly adept at playing on both sides of the ball as well as both sides of the pitch, Alston has been a regular starter for New England for the four seasons prior to 2013. Even at the start of the 2013 season, Alston was in tremendous form in the opening 4 games playing at left back. However, on April 8th 2013 it was announced that the 2010 MLS All-Star was to have one of the greatest knockbacks of his life. He was to undergo treatment for chronic myelogenous leukaemia, a rare but treatable form of cancer. It was long hard struggle for the 25-year-old.
Well perhaps not long but certainly a struggle, Alston was incredibly able to return to training just three months through his treatment. Alston was removed from the disabled list and was able to get going again for the Revs. The level of self-discipline and sheer hard work required for Alston to fight the illness cannot be understated. Alston made his comeback on July 27th against D.C. United, coming on as an 84th minute substitute and play 6 minutes in front of his family who live near RFK stadium. New England were to win that match and although the fight against Cancer is not yet over for Alston, judging by the speed of his recovery and his ability to be physically fit to be playing professional soccer, it looks as though Alston has also won. Just like Reis, 2013 has the potential to end very successfully for the Revs.
Comeback Player of the Year is a subjective topic as it depends on how you define ‘comeback’. Does it depend on what you do purely on the pitch? Or should it perhaps be judged on what experiences you have been through that year and then look at the end result?
Reis and Alston are probably not too concerned on winning a very contrived, manufactured award that gets handed out every season. They’ve won the greatest gift of all – survival.