SAN JOSE, Calif. – While players from the San Jose Earthquakes congregated for the first time last Thursday to get ready for the upcoming 2011 season, there’s one player whose preparations began long ago.
Last June, Andre Luiz suffered a season-ending knee injury and underwent surgery in August to reconstruct the posterior cruciate ligament and repair the medial collateral ligament in his left knee. He’s been on the recovery trail since, but his journey’s not over yet.
“It’s been just over five months since the operation,” André Luiz told MLSsoccer.com. “The doctor that operated on me here in California said – and doctors in Brazil [where he also trained during the offseason] said the same thing – that recovery will take between seven and eight months.”
[inline_node:7499]André Luiz’s recuperation has gone according to schedule. After resting his knee following surgery, the 36-year-old Brazilian began physical therapy. By the time the Quakes’ season ended in November, he was training off to the side, running with the aid of a knee brace.
Throughout the offseason, André Luiz kept working on his rehab. With the help of the personnel at his former club, Corinthians, he followed the regimen the Quakes staff drew up for him.
“I took advantage of the two months I stayed over there [in Brazil] to work out with Corinthians,” said André Luiz. “I left [San Jose] with the workouts I needed to do over there. I took advantage of Corinthians' structure, of the personnel they have. That was important. I didn’t waste time and was able to keep up the important work I had been doing here.”
The offseason work done in Brazil – which focused on strengthening the leg – has allowed him to start running without the aid of the brace. And while he still feels some pain and swelling, it’s slowly going away.
“I feel a lot better,” he said. “I’m happy about my progress. I feel good. I’m still running, but I’m taking things slowly.”
According to the midfielder, he won’t be able to touch the ball for nearly another three weeks and could miss the first game or two of the season. But that doesn’t matter. What’s most important, he says, is getting back to full fitness.
“We’ve got to give time time so that I can return at 100 percent, that’s what’s most important,” said André Luiz. “I think we’re on the right path. If I lose one game or two, it won’t be much. But it’s important that I return at 100 percent so that I can play until the end of the season without a problem.”
Last season, injuries to André Luiz and defender Ike Opara put San Jose in a little bind. Holding midfielder Brandon McDonald had to slide back into a central defensive role, leaving the Quakes with a shortage of midfielders.
On top of that, the loss of André Luiz meant that the Quakes lost some of their spirit in the middle of the pitch. It was a two-edged loss, really. With the two-way Brazilian midfielder gone, so, too, was some of San Jose’s ball-winning bite. But where it really hurt the most was on offense. The Quakes didn’t have their general, the person who could rally the troops and lead the charge with his link-up play.
To solve the issue, the team traded for Sam Cronin from Toronto and signed Khari Stephenson and Geovanni (the club’s first-ever Designated Player) midway through 2010. Although Geovanni is no longer around and the Quakes are still in negotiations to re-sign Stephenson, the midfield was bolstered for the 2011 campaign with the pick up of Anthony Ampaipitakwong in the SuperDraft and the signing of Tony Donatelli. Needless to say, cracking the starting lineup won’t be an easy task for André Luiz once he’s back to full health.
[inline_node:3793]“I think we’ve missed him and his guile and his ability to play soccer, so I’m looking forward to having him back in the fold,” Quakes head coach Frank Yallop told MLSsoccer.com of the big Braziian. “We did have a good year last year with Sam Cronin and Khari and Scotty [Sealy] and Brad Ring. All those guys did a good job in the middle of the field, so [André Luiz] is not gonna walk into the team, for sure.”
André Luiz’s contract runs out at the end of this season. Questions abound as to how effective he’ll be at 36, but especially after the injury and surgery he’s gone through. Only time will tell if the midfielder can’t perform on the pitch anymore, but if he can’t, San Jose general manager John Doyle says André Luiz future could still be as a member of the Quakes.
[inline_node:327428]“We’re hoping he gets better and healthy,” said Doyle. "He’s a terrific player and great person. From that standpoint, if there was a reason that he couldn’t come back to play at the level we know and expect from him, we could have him work in the front office.
“He could be an international scout for us. … He’s incredible. He speaks Spanish, Portuguese, French English. He’s well traveled. He’d be a great ambassador for the club.”
André Luiz proved his negotiating chops by convincing Geovanni to come to San Jose. And though he’s admitted interest in working in the Quakes front office once his career is done, at the moment, he's focused solely on returning to the playing field.
“Recovering is difficult,” he said. “It’s the first time an injury like this has happened to me, but I’m happy because little by little I’m getting better. I want to think that in two more months [I’ll be 100 percent ready], but I’ll have to keep working as best I can. Who knows, maybe I can come back earlier.”