Though his ankle injury hasn't been worldwide news, Kansas City Wizards forward Scott Sealy has suffered nearly two months longer than the Los Angeles Galaxy's David Beckham. Throw in a groin injury and 2007 has easily been Sealy's most frustrating soccer experience.
"It's definitely been a frustrating, long season so far for me," Sealy said. "Trying to get over the injuries has been a big task."
Sealy's torture began on April 18 when he suffered a high-ankle sprain in a U.S. Open Cup loss at Real Salt Lake, only four days after beginning the MLS season with a goal and an assist in K.C.'s 4-2 opening day victory at D.C. United.
The day-by-day and week-by-week ritual of pain, progression and regression began. Then on May 5, Sealy played in a home 1-0 win against Columbus as a substitute. Those 36 minutes were a mistake. It would be June 2 until Sealy would play again.
"That's how the ankle goes. Sometimes you feel like you have gotten over it, then after one game you play, you're back to square one. You're like, 'It's so sore I can't even turn,'" Sealy said.
But by early June, Sealy believed he was ready to return and regain the form that saw him score 10 goals last season and nine in his rookie year. For seven games in a row, Sealy saw time. But he was not disrupting defenses with his speed and skill, nor displaying his usual finishing touch. Admittedly, the ankle injury affected his play.
"It's the most frustrating injury to have ... everything you do is with your feet. That's soccer. It's something that plays with your mind. Even though you may not feel any pain, you already have a mental disadvantage knowing that you injured it before, you know how it feels when it's hurt, and you don't want to hurt it again," he said.
With that experience, Sealy both empathizes and sympathizes with Beckham's two-month trial since hurting his ankle playing for England on June 6 and his struggle to play since coming to MLS in mid-July. Beckham had seen only late substitute appearances in a July 21 exhibition against English giant Chelsea FC and last Thursday against D.C. United before starting and playing more than an hour in Wednesday's SuperLiga match up with D.C. United.
"I understand how he feels having to go through rehab. ... I saw him play against D.C. (for 18 minutes that resulted in more ankle swelling), and I had emotions running too because at different times I felt well and that I could play," Sealy said. "I could see that he was limited in the things he could do. I'm sure he's very frustrated not being able to play."
Sealy is fortunate that his coach has been there as well.
"I was plagued with injuries practically (my whole playing career). I had some hamstring issues and four Achilles' tendon surgeries, so I understand the frustration," said Wizards' head coach Curt Onalfo. "Through tough times, strength of character prevails, and I believe [Sealy] has a strong [character], and I believe he will, in the end, prevail. I still believe in him."
As if Sealy's three-month struggle with his ankle was not enough, he strained a groin July 7 in a match in Los Angeles, a week before Beckham's arrival and his much publicized ankle saga would take over the town. Three weeks later, Sealy said he would not play again until he was "100 percent."
And now seems to be that time. Sealy, who played in 28 and 29 games respectively in his first two seasons, believes he is ready to become a regular after playing in only nine of the Wizards' 19 matches this season.
"I finally turned the corner a little bit on the injury," he said. "I'm able to participate, and this upcoming game (Sunday against New England), I should be in line for selection. We'll see how that goes, but ... I'm happy to be where I am right now."
The reality is Sealy still might not be quite at 100 percent, but confidence in his ankle has returned during recent training.
"The groin feels fine. The ankle is going to take very long," he said. "The only way to really recover from an ankle injury is to rest and not play at all. But it's good enough for me to start back playing, and things seem to be going well.
"Right now, I'm as sharp as I can remember. ... In terms of fitness, I'll be fine within the next two or three games. It's a crucial time for our team coming into the last third of the season, and I'm sure I could be important coming close to playoff time."
The Wizards' first-round draft choice in the 2005 SuperDraft (11th overall), Sealy might not be able to slip right into the starting lineup though.
"Anytime a player gets injured, it's an opportunity for other guys, and other guys have done well, Yura Movsisyan being one," said Onalfo. "We also signed another forward in [Argentinean Eloy] Colombano, and Ryan Pore has played well when we've called on him as well. Competition is fierce. ... There's still a long road ahead. The important thing as an athlete is you have to put the past in the past and start moving forward, and I think that's what he is doing. Right now, he is playing very well in training."
Facing the struggles he has, Sealy is ready for the challenge.
"It's always good to have competition," he said. "Coach is looking to enhance the team and get guys in who will help the team. That's always good, not just for myself but all the attacking players. ... At the end of the day, he's going to play the guys who are getting the job done and who's more consistent."