March 24 started and ended the way Babayele Sodade hoped it would.
He made his first appearance for the Canada U23 National Team in an Olympic qualifying match against the USA in Nashville, Tennessee, starting for the Maple Leafs. At the end of 90 minutes, Canada upset the Stars and Stripes 2-0 on their way to qualifying for the semifinals of the tournament.
Sodade celebrated on the grass at LP Field, but it was a bittersweet feeling for the 21-year-old forward.
In the 18th minute, Sodade chased down a ball, beating his American defender before trying to tap the ball around him. The ball hit the defender’s hand and as Sodade turned to shout “handball” to the referee, his foot got caught in the grass and his ACL tore, ending his hopes of helping Canada reach the Olympics and cutting short his rookie season in Major League Soccer before it could even start.
Even after being taken off the field, Sodade had hopes of returning to the match, but it was all for not and he was left on the bench with an ice pack on his knee.
In the 53rd minute, he leapt to his feet cheering when Doneil Henry scored to put Canada up 1-0. He did the same when Lucas Cavallini doubled the lead in the 83rd minute.
“When we scored, my knee was feeling fine,” he said. “I had been jogging on the sideline trying to get back in the game. It was such a great feeling because nobody thought we could beat the mighty USA.”
Not long after the match, Sodade would learn the extent of his injury. He had an inkling that his ACL was torn, but when that thought was confirmed and his recovery time of 6-9 months was first uttered to him, the gravity of the situation came crashing down.
“I was gutted when it happened,” Sodade said. “Everything was working out well for me. I was enjoying myself playing soccer with the Canadian team and also with Seattle. There’s nothing I can do now but work harder.”
Even through all his tribulations, Sodade can also smile about suiting up with the Canadian U23 side that topped the USA.
“It was amazing. It was the first time I got to represent Canada and it was such an important level,” he said, the grin as genuine as can be. “Walking onto the field, complete underdogs, getting jitters and having 10,000 American fans in the stands in America - it was fun. It was amazing. It’s what I’ve been working hard for all my life.”
Now back at Starfire, he faces surgery in the next month with a long road of recovery ahead.
However, the ubiquitous smile of Sodade, while not quite as bright as it was before he left to join his Canadian teammates, still adorned his face as he watched the Sounders train from the sidelines.
Even as he speaks of the long recovery that awaits him on the other side of the knife, the sides of his lips curl upwards with a hint of a smile while his eyes tell you the pain that comes with the words.
“It’s going to be tough. All the excitement of playing at CenturyLink has been taken away from me for possibly this year,” he said. “I’m just going to use it to fuel my fire and my desire to play in front of everybody in Seattle. I’ll work harder, try to get better and hopefully come back stronger, faster and healthier and ready to go.”