The Long Road Back

Jhon Kennedy Hurtado tore his ACL May 22. His road back to the field has been long, but he is nearing a return and can't wait until the emotional day when he will return to the pitch.

“Es la hora de poner el pecho a la brisa.”

That is a saying in Colombia that Jhon Kennedy Hurtado holds dear to his heart in times of trouble.

“It's time to put your chest into the wind.”

That’s just what Hurtado has needed to do since May 22, when the Sounders trailed 1-0 to the San Jose Earthquakes.  Hurtado was chasing down Chris Wondolowski to try to prevent a shot on an open net in stoppage time when his knee gave way and he suffered a torn left ACL.

On June 4, Hurtado had surgery to repair the tear and has been on a regimented rehabilitation schedule ever since.

“It’s not easy to explain.  Only God knows why it happens to someone,” said Hurtado, a 2009 MLS All Star and a finalist for 2009 MLS Defender of the Year.  “I will work hard to keep improving and bring happiness to my friends and family and the fans.”

His rehabilitation began almost immediately after the surgery.  He would walk on crutches to the training field at Starfire on most days - some days he would ride on the equipment cart.  Some days he would watch training from a treadmill while others he would sit on the bench and watch his teammates prepare for the next opponent.

All the while, Hurtado just wondered when he would be able to play soccer again.

Devastated, yet determined to help his team, he hoped to be back before the conclusion of the 2010 season.  It would take a dramatic recovery, as most ACL tears takes 6 months or more to heal, while the final game of the regular season came just under five months after his surgery.

Even though he knew it was a longshot, he pushed for that goal.

“We’ve seen a very anxious and frustrated player who wants to be out here helping teammates,” Sounders FC owner/GM Adrian Hanauer said.  “He’s such a good team guy and a good guy in general that it kills us to see him not be able to come out here on gameday and participate.”

The other side of that, though, is that he has had moments of tremendous success, followed by frustration that he can’t continue to push forward toward full training sessions with his Sounders FC teammates.  While he would hit plateaus in the recovery process, he had to continue to watch his teammates go through the rigorous training schedule the helped them to a second-straight Lamar Hunt US Open Cup title and a second straight playoff appearance.

“It’s been very hard.  Not only for me, but also for my family and all the people supporting me and giving me strength through this period,” he said.  “It’s been hard to watch my team train every day and win the Open Cup and not be able to be there.  Of course, I’m happy for the team, but I wish I could be closer and be able to share that emotion and happiness.”

Without Hurtado in the lineup, Seattle has turned to a combination of Jeff Parke and Patrick Ianni.  While the two have formed a Rubiks Cube of a defensive tandem, Hurtado’s individual talents are among the top in the league and are surely missed by the Sounders

“He’s probably among the top two or three 1v1 defenders in the league,” Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid said.  “He is a guy who 1v1 can, by himself, shut down dangerous players and that means other guys can help other areas and we miss that part.”

On October 15, Hurtado walked out on the field at Qwest to present the Golden Scarf to US Women’s National Team goalkeeper and University of Washington product Hope Solo.  He got a rousing ovation there and another one earlier in the evening when he addressed the gathered masses in Occidental Park at the March to the Match.

It was the organizations efforts to keep him close to the team while his teammates were celebrating a great night on Fan Appreciation Night.  It was also an opportunity for those fans to turn the appreciation back to Hurtado and show him how much they looked forward to his return as well.

“It was spectacular.  Really beautiful,” Hurtado said. “It is something that I will always remember.  I am thankful for the beautiful fans that fill up the stadium.  It gives me goosebumps every time I come here.” 

It won’t be long, though, before Hurtado will hear the cheers again for his defensive exploits.  On pace to be fit for a return to the field in about a month, Hurtado will be able to ease into a return instead when the team starts training camp in late January.  That will allow his ACL to fully heal and give him an opportunity to be at his strongest when the 2011 MLS season kicks off.

“I have to thank God for guiding me through my path.  To be here with such an incredible team and all of these people - both on and off the field - who are supporting me and giving me strength.  It’s a dream, now, to be a part of a team that welcomed me with an open heart,” Hurtado said.  “It will bring me strong emotions.  I need to keep working, keep preparing physically and mentally for when that day comes - regardless of when that day comes and who that game is against.”

After six months of watching the Sounders on television and from the sidelines for Hurtado, March can’t come soon enough.

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