The 2021 MLS season hasn’t been easy for Seattle Sounders midfielder Jordy Delem.
Entering the year, Delem had firmly established himself as a valuable member of the squad since signing in 2017, with 77 MLS appearances across four seasons.
A dependable defensive midfielder, Delem appeared poised for a new and possibly expanded role for the current campaign as the team transitioned to a three-center back formation, which is a system he had spent ample time playing in with the Martinique national team.
That all changed nine minutes into Delem’s first start of the season on May 12, when he tore his ACL against the San Jose Earthquakes. He was subsequently placed on the season-ending injury list.
“As you could guess, it wasn’t easy at the beginning to accept,” Delem told SoundersFC.com. “But I had to deal with it.”
On the pitch, Delem has developed a reputation as a hard-nosed defensive player, dominating duels and routinely supplying crunching tackles. Off the pitch, his bubbly personality and indefatigable optimism made him an instant fan favorite.
Recovering from long-term injuries like an ACL tear can be physically and emotionally grueling, with months of individual rehab work and countless hours spent away from the field. For Delem, tapping into his innate enthusiasm has helped fuel him during these trying months.
“At the beginning it was quite tough, I’m not going to lie,” recalled Delem. “I have to talk to myself and shake up my mind and keep my positive energy. With my teammates helping me, my family, I think it was much easier. The coaching staff, too.”
Added Head Coach Brian Schmetzer: “He’s always been a positive influence for this team since day one. He always works hard, humble, everything. It’s unfortunate he got injured… He’s a good kid.”
On top of staying upbeat, Delem is motivated by the prospect of emerging on the other side of this demoralizing injury a new and improved player.
“I cannot be negative when I’m always positive, so I have to stay mindful,” said Delem. “I have some friends who’ve gone through it, and they told me I’m going to be better after, and I actually feel it. I can’t wait until I can play.”
Most people would struggle to find a silver lining to being sidelined for the better part of a year, but not Delem. The time away from the game has given him an opportunity to gain clarity on how he can return stronger for the experience.
“It’s given me a lot of time to think about different things,” noted Delem. “Especially my weaknesses, my strengths and what I have to work on. Being in the gym and being apart from the team is a good time to work on that. I can only get better after if I put the work into it.”
Another development that has helped Delem throughout this time has been the Sounders’ success on the pitch this season, as the team currently sits first in the Western Conference.
“The team has been amazing this year so far,” said Delem. “I think everybody is hungry watching us play. Me first [laughs] obviously I want to be part of it. I’m looking forward to next year for what I can add to the team, and I can be even stronger.”
Between his ACL injury and the COVID-19 pandemic, it will be almost two years since Delem has played in front of a full capacity crowd by the time the 2022 MLS season rolls around. The prospect of playing in front of a packed Lumen Field, coupled with the support he has received from Sounders fans, continues to motivate him as he works his way back to a full return.
“I’ve received a lot of messages of encouragement [from fans] – thanks to everybody, by the way – and playing in front of the whole stadium is something that all professional players love,” said Delem. “I’m missing that, but I keep in mind that one day, as soon as I’m better, I will be able to play again. And I’m excited for that.”