May 2, 2007 Toronto FC Ronnie O'Brien almost ready for debut (from

05/02/2007 6:55PM
O'Brien nearly ready for TFC debut
By Mark Polishuk / Staff

TORONTO -- As Ronnie O'Brien left the BMO Field pitch after Wednesday morning's practice, he stopped by the bench to pick up his knee brace. The brace is an ungainly looking plastic contraption, and as he picked it up, O'Brien briefly had a look on his face akin to that of a 9-year-old looking at a plate of Brussels sprouts. The brace's aesthetic qualities, lacking as they may be, weren't the problem for O'Brien. It was more what the brace represented. It was the product of strained ligaments in the midfielder's right knee that have kept him on the sidelines for all four of Toronto FC's games thus far in the MLS season.

O'Brien suffered the injury during a practice on April 3, just five days before Toronto FC kicked off their inaugural season. He was given a timeline of four to six weeks before he would be able to play, and O'Brien said he is currently at about "65 or 70 percent" healthy.

"Yesterday it was four weeks, so I'm probably a little ahead of schedule," O'Brien said. "Movement-wise, it's fine. I can run, I can cut, I can do whatever I want to do. It's just kicking the ball that's the problem. When I try to bend the ball and shape the ball with the inside of my foot, that's the thing that's still really sore and that's what I do the most."

It has been a long rehab for O'Brien, full of small victories and setbacks. He has gone without the brace during this week's training, but he said he "tweaked" his knee during Tuesday's practice, and as a result was taking a a bit easier on Wednesday.

"It's expected you'll get little twinges," said Carmelo Lobue, Toronto FC's athletic trainer. "We have to give the tissue time to heal. You have to make sure you're doing this within the proper time frame for rehab and not pushing it too much. [Ronnie has] definitely progressed really well. We're at the point now where he's just about ready to get out on the field."

TFC coach Mo Johnston had hinted that O'Brien might have been used as a substitute in last Saturday's 1-0 loss to Kansas City, but the midfielder remained on the bench. Johnston said that this latest aggrevation during practice is an example of why he doesn't want to rush O'Brien into action.

"It's only been four games," Johnston said. "We don't want to get Ronnie in there before he's ready and have him out for an even longer time."

Toronto has clearly missed the presence of the two-time former MLS Best XI honoree thus far. TFC are 0-4 and have a minus-10 goal differential in 2007.

"I can't even tell you how frustrating it is," O'Brien said. "To watch your team win is hard because you always want to be part of it. But to watch your team lose a couple of games and you just want to help ... it's just so frustrating not to be out there."

TFC don't play until May 12, when they play host to the Chicago Fire at BMO Field. Everyone from O'Brien to Johnston to Lobue seems to be aiming towards that match as O'Brien's Toronto debut, at least in a substitute role.

And, for O'Brien's sake, the training staff is doing what it can to make sure the brace will stay in the locker room.

"Most soccer players don't like to wear those kind of braces, but it's definitely helping," Lobue said. "Chances are we'll work on something else to make sure he's able to play without it.

"He's not a big fan of it," Lobue added with a laugh.

Mark Polishuk is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.

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