FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Before the New England Revolution returned to the training field on Monday morning to start their preparations for Saturday's match at the Seattle Sounders, they gathered in the locker room to hear inconceivably difficult news.
Revolution defender Kevin Alston spent last week away from the team as he proceeded through a series of medical examinations and tests to determine why he felt so poorly during his side's 1-0 defeat to FC Dallas on March 30.
Alston shared the results with his stunned teammates in that meeting: he had chronic myelogenous leukemia. The treatment for the rare disease would force him to take an indefinite leave of absence from the team.
“It was the quietest the room had been in the entire time that I've been here,” Revolution coach Jay Heaps told MLSsoccer.com. “Those are tough emotions.”
Alston fielded questions about his treatable condition and then stuck around to watch his teammates proceed through their paces. It made sense to everyone involved to have him around then for a variety of reasons. And he can come around as frequently as he wants as he grapples with his health concerns, Heaps said.
There are no handbooks to help to chart the proper course in these situations or process such disarming and unexpected news, but the game offers an escape from the serious matters unfolding off the field.
“It's tough, obviously,” Revolution defender Chris Tierney said. “Everyone knows about the situation with Kevin. It's something we've sort of handled as a team and as a family. We obviously spoke with Kevin and all of our support is with him. We're thinking about him all week through training and as we play this weekend, but it's a job and we have to get on with it. We have to use it as motivation to work hard in his absence.”
Even in these difficult times, the work does not cease. A trip to CenturyLink Field beckons for a match between two teams desperate to climb out of their respective predicaments and pull themselves up the table. The genuine severity of those concerns fell into stark relief with the revelations earlier this week, but the practical considerations of wins and losses still warrant attention and focus nonetheless.
Revolution goalkeeper Matt Reis said he expects he and his teammates will find a way to train their attention on the task at hand even as they worry about their absent teammate and the difficulties he must overcome over the next few months.
“Everything that has gone on with Kevin should only help and add to our focus,” Reis said. “It's unfortunate and it's heartbreaking what he is going through, but, at the same time, I know he'd want to be there with us. When it's getting tough and things aren't going our way, we just have to think of him and all he is going through. Hopefully, that will give us a little boost to get us to where we need to be.”