When Marcel de Jong went down in training camp in mid-March with a ruptured Achilles, he made a vow to himself to return before the Canadian Premier League season ended.
The medical professionals told him how unlikely that was, considering the severity of the injury. But the tenaciously determined 56-time capped former Canadian international has done it and is looking for a return to the pitch tonight in Halifax when Pacific FC (4-7-4 in the fall season) meets the HFX Wanderers (2-7-7 in the fall).
De Jong was actually dressed for the first time last week when PFC and HFX drew 1-1 at Westhills Stadium but did not get the call off the bench.
“You do your research with big injuries,” said de Jong.
“And everything said eight-to-12 months for ruptured Achilles with some of them career-ending.”
But inspiration came from one of the most famous names in soccer, if not overall world sport.
“David Beckham tore his Achilles and came back in six months. I said to myself: ‘OK, that’s my goal, too.’ Mission accomplished.”
Being 32 and having played six seasons for FC Augsburg of the Bundesliga, and also four seasons for Roda JC in the top-level Dutch Eredivisie, gives you some insight into soccer and your body.
“I was devastated the first couple of weeks,” admitted de Jong.
“But it happens and it’s a part of the game. You can’t control injuries. But you can control how you react to them.”
To say de Jong reacted well may be the understatement of the CPL season.
“It’s been a long road back with lots of ups and downs during rehab,” said de Jong, who played the last three seasons in the MLS with the Vancouver Whitecaps.
“I was motivated and personally felt a need to push it, but then I had to listen to the training staff when they knew they had to hold me back sometimes. Randy and Jamie kept me on track.”
The veteran defender was referring to PFC director of sports science Randy Celebrini and team trainer Jamie Neill, who both knew a premature return would cause more harm.
“Both are world class and Randy is the rehab guru,” said de Jong, about the importance of listening to the experts, especially one as noted as Celebrini.
Now recovered, de Jong can’t wait to see pitch time again. He was warming up in the second half last week at Westhills when HFX tied the game late.
“We wanted to push for the go-ahead goal then, and it was the right decision not to bring a defender in at that point,” said de Jong.
He has three chances to complete his remarkable comeback — tonight in Halifax, next Wednesday away to FC Edmonton or in the season curtain-dropper Oct. 19 against Valour FC of Winnipeg at Westhills Stadium.