The road back from a severe ACL injury, for any professional soccer player, can be a tough slog.
It means months of intensive physiotherapy, followed by countless hours in the weight room and worst of all, the waiting game that goes along with every rehabilitation.
Couple all that, with a very real sense that despite all your hard work, despite whatever gains you may make, you may still never regain your form or, more importantly, a place on the team you left. So it's no wonder so many athletes fade away into the fabric of football after an injury like that.
And for a player like Adrian Cann, who, at 31 was already on the back half of his career as a defender with Toronto FC, no one would have faulted him if he had done just that and walked away. But after missing nearly an entire year since tearing his ACL during a practice, Cann is now only a week away from returning.
He spoke with CBCsports.ca about his journey back.
"This was one of the biggest obstacles to overcome in my career," said Cann. "I tend to like challenges, I rise to them, but I mean, in this situation, it was my livelihood at the same time. Nobody wants to be put in a position like that. But what am I supposed to do?"
And while he says he never seriously considered retirement, he did -- in the early days of the injury -- struggle with the idea.
"Very early on, there were some points in time where I was asking myself 'Am I going to overcome this? Am I going to overcome this injury?'" said Cann. "Those thoughts about walking away did enter my mind but after my surgery and starting my rehab, I just put my head down, started doing the work they gave me and I went with it."
Went with it he did -- all the way across the continent where he found himself isolated from his team, family and friends. Toronto FC had set him up at Athletes Performance in Los Angeles -- a clinic that specializes in dealing with professional athletes. There he spent the entire month of December working to bring strength back to the tree trunks of legs he had once had.Feeling ready
"Everything was laid out so that I could just focus on my rehab. I worked first to bring my strength back and then re-find my running patterns again. I had the time to myself to just focus."
He would continue working slowly throughout the spring but despite feeling ready, the coaches and trainers wouldn't let him get into any pre-season action. But when Toronto FC's captain and central defender Torsten Frings was injured
in their first MLS game of the year, it looked as though Cann might be thrust back into the picture -- ready or not.
"The team physios had a plan that they had from the get-go," said Cann. "When the coaches came calling, they mentioned that to the coaching staff again and they stated, 'well, listen, even though Torsten went down, Adrian still has a week of the protocol left and we're going to follow that.'
"So, the coaches respected that, despite whatever pressure they might have to fill that gap, and I'll be getting some game minutes under my belt before the end of the month."
He's expected to start in a reserve squad game against Columbus Crew next weekend. And when he does find his way back on to the pitch, with an increased role over the next month, he'll have travelled a road that few players at his age can lay claim to.
"Football is a fickle business. One week you're on. One week you're out. I guess you can't really rely on a lot of things," Cann said. "The way that this business is you have to roll with the punches. There are ups and downs and you can't be too serious about things."
It's a funny thing for him to say -- not taking things too seriously -- considering how deadly serious he was over the last year while working to get back.
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