COLUMBUS, Ohio – Watching José Gonçalves grab the back of his right hamstring and wince in pain felt like an exercise in cognitive dissonance. Only the shared experience by everyone inside Crew Stadium grounded it in some alternate form of reality.
For the first time this season, Gonçalves found himself seriously wounded on the field. He said he felt a deep pain in his right hamstring. He received considerable attention from the Revolution training staff on the field inside the first five minutes of New England's playoff-clinching 1-0 victory over Columbus on Sunday.
Most players would succumb readily to that sort of injury. Gonçalves immediately weighed the gravity of his predicament and wondered whether he should continue.
“I tried to walk, but I was not able,” Gonçalves told MLSsoccer.com from the treatment table after the match. “In my mind, I had to make a decision and I had to make it fast because it was an important game. If I could go, I will go 100 percent, that is for sure. It was no doubt that I had to help my team get into the playoffs.”
Revolution coach Jay Heaps motioned to Stephen McCarthy to prepare himself as Gonçalves received attention. McCarthy even stripped down to his uniform and prepared to reprise his once successful partnership with A.J. Soares at this critical juncture.
Gonçalves, however, rejected off any entreaties about a possible switch. He wanted to see how long he could play with the injury he incurred. He stepped back on the field, shook it off with a stretch or two and took up his regular perch. And every few minutes thereafter, he rejected those same inquiries again and again.
“It's mental,” Gonçalves said. “You have to play with your mind. It was a difficult moment, but I had [to get through it] and be smarter. I knew I could handle it, so I tried to do my best to handle it until the end of the first half and then the end of the game.”
Gonçalves simply blocked out the injury as best he could and proceeded with his usual business. It took him a few minutes to adjust physically to his purportedly hindered state, but those modest alterations did not impact his effectiveness (including a game-high 13 clearances, according to statistics gathered by Opta). He won header after header as the Crew persisted with its direct approach, placing stress on that balky hamstring every time he left the ground. He – and his teammates, it must be said – never wavered.
“For the first couple of minutes when he was injured, I did look over there to see if he was alright, but he was fine,” Soares said. “He was down for a couple of minutes and then you couldn't even tell. It was pretty amazing, actually.”
The entire shift constituted, in the words of Revolution midfielder Kelyn Rowe, what you want from your captain. Gonçalves placed his personal welfare below the needs of the team. He suffered through a painful 90 minutes in service of the greater good. And those deeds ultimately produced the desired end product at the final whistle.
“He played with grit,” Heaps said. “He really wanted the playoffs. It shows. Now we need to get him recovered because he's a big part of what we're doing.”