SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Professional athletes tear their anterior cruciate ligaments so often these days, the injury has become almost commonplace.
As his road to recovery nears its end, San Jose Earthquakes midfielder Mehdi Ballouchy can readily admit his ACL experience was hardly routine.
Ballouchy had never faced the kind of layoff required after suffering a ligament tear against FC Dallas on Sept. 29. For the first time as an adult, the 30-year-old was forced to live a life without soccer — and it proved at times to be harrowing.
“I think I didn’t know how important [soccer] was for me,” Ballouchy told MLSsoccer.com . “It wasn’t just a profession, it was a lot more than that for my life. I almost became a different person. Leaving the game for a while was probably one of the hardest things to go through in my life.”
Ballouchy said getting back into training several weeks ago helped quell his early fears about what kind of damage had been done. He played 45 minutes for San Jose in a Reserve League match against Colorado on Sunday and delivered an over-the-top lead pass to set up Cordell Cato for the first goal in a 3-0 victory.
“When you get a serious injury like I had, you start doubting a lot of things, especially early on in the process,” Ballouchy said. “I’m lucky, I had a few friends that have gone through it and a few teammates that have gone through it that have helped me out throughout the process. Right now, just playing soccer, here or anywhere, I’m really happy. It’s done a lot for my head.”
Ballouchy said he’s learned to be more patient as he’s waited for a chance to get back into MLS regular-season action. He said the doctors treating him had to slow down his rehab for fear of coming back too soon and reinjuring the knee. And Ballouchy said he “kind of had an argument with everyone” when the Quakes moved to enforce the pre-set 45-minute limit during the Reserve League game.
Ballouchy’s chance might be coming, however. He was on each of San Jose’s last three game-day 18-man rosters, and San Jose’s options in midfield could be narrowing. Coach Frank Yallop said that veteran captain Ramiro Corrales is out with an ankle problem, and Rafael Baca, Sam Cronin's usual partner in the center of the pitch, came out of last weekend’s match with a tight right hamstring and did not practice on Tuesday.
There would be a little bit of poetic closure if Ballouchy were to play this weekend, against the same FC Dallas team he faced during his last league appearance. Whenever it happens, though, Ballouchy is more than ready.
“I just don’t think about [the knee],” Ballouchy said. “I think I’m here, I think I’m healed, I think I’m ready to go. I’d rather think about it that way.”