WASHINGTON — The mere mention of the phrase “torn ACL” can leave professional players feeling squeamish. One of the most dreaded injuries in sports, a damaged anterior cruciate knee ligament usually means painful surgery, grueling rehabilitation and serious career disruption, to say the least.
That has all become far too familiar to Brandon Barklage, the midfielder who showed real promise in his first two seasons with D.C. United only to have both campaigns cut short by ACL tears.
In 2009 the St. Louis University product stormed into surprise contention for playing time as a rookie before injuring his right ACL in a midsummer U.S. Open Cup match.
He worked his way back to health through many months of rehab and was just beginning to stake his claim for a role in this year’s D.C. midfield when he tangled legs with Amantino Mancini in a May friendly against AC Milan, causing even more serious damage, this time in his left knee.But Barklage has shown admirable resilience in the face of recurring misfortune.
After a second round of surgery on June 7, he’s already been back in a United training kit for some time as he wades through another round of recovery and regeneration. Last week the 23-year-old “started opening it up” with more strenuous workouts, and afterwards he gave MLSsoccer.com a few updates on his status.
MLSsoccer.com: Brandon, what stage are you at in your rehab process?
BB: I did some sprints – it [the knee] felt good until towards the end. It kind of felt a little bit tired after a lot of repetitions. But it feels strong.
I’m actually ahead of schedule right now. I did some sprinting today and it felt really good, so next month I’d say I’m almost full-fledged.
MLSsoccer.com: Have you been limited to stationary bike up until now?
BB: No, I’ve actually been doing some agility work, a little bit of plyo[metric] work. Next month is really when I start hitting it hard. But right now it’s just more strengthening exercises.
MLSsoccer.com: Last year, you mentioned that the challenge of bulking up nearby muscle areas is almost as hard as rebuilding the knee itself. Has that been the case this time as well?
BB: It’s weird actually, because my left calf, which is my bad leg, is bigger than my right calf right now. So I’ve been doing a good job of strengthening that, but it’s opposite with the quads. So I need to start strengthening my quad to make it comparable to the other one.
MLSsoccer.com: How does your left knee injury compare to last year’s on the right?
BB: This year it was worse as there was more damage. I did my ACL and I sprained my MCL, and then I tore some cartilage also. But the MCL healed over really well and now it’s just dealing with the ACL.
MLSsoccer.com: Players often encounter fits and starts on their road back from injuries of this magnitude. Have you experienced any such setbacks?
BB: A little bit, yeah. A lot of little irritations here and there. I get a little blockage in the back of my knee that I didn’t get last year. But it’s all part of rehab. It’ll get better. Like today, I worked it really hard and I know I’m going to be hurting a little bit tomorrow. But two days from now I’ll be back at it.
MLSsoccer.com: For most observers, your situation seems like such a massive psychological challenge.
BB: Yeah, it is. It’s tough to deal with, really. But it’s all part of being a professional. You’ve got to deal with whatever’s handed to you. It just sucks that it came at the time that it did. But I have a lot of time to recover and I think I’ll be good for next year.
MLSsoccer.com: You just began sprinting work. Do you have any goals or milestones set for the final month of this season?
BB: I hope to be playing with the team within the next month and a half or so. But that might be a little stretch. We’ll see. I might have to wait until preseason next year.
MLSsoccer.com: How would you rate the atmosphere in the locker room during this difficult campaign?
BB: It’s been a rough season, but I think everybody’s getting along really well. [Interim coach] Benny [Olsen]’s doing a great job of handling his situation, and we’re all looking forward to next year.