Toward the end of 2016, Gaston Sauro wasn’t sure whether he would ever be able to play soccer again.
But just over a year later, the Argentinian center back was lunging into slide tackles in training and playing full speed with his teammates at Columbus Crew SC’s first training of the preseason, with head coach Gregg Berhalter “surprised how good he looks.”
Sauro was coming off of a devastating one-two punch of injuries in 2016. In May, he tore the posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and chose rehab rather than surgery, a choice he called “the wrong decision.”
By early October, the same knee was in pain once again. Team doctors found a new injury, one that Sauro said was worsened by his PCL tear. According to a Columbus Dispatch report, Sauro had developed serious cartilage damage known as a chondral defect.
“The doctor said it was 50 percent to come back, and that was really hard,” he said at the first Crew SC media availability of the season last week. “It was not just thinking about the recovery, but also thinking about if I can [play] again.”
Sauro went through a grueling year of surgeries and rehab, waiting five months for donor cartilage to repair his knee because of his height and weight. Not many donors, after all, stand at 6 feet, 3 inches.
“I think there was a lag in terms of the information getting to you guys and the information getting communicated to Gaston,” Berhalter said. “All along, the plan was to give him the opportunity in a safe, structured environment to get back on the field and perform. So it was never an option that he wasn’t going to be back. We just weren’t going to pick up the option on the number he was at.”
Now, Sauro said, he’s approaching the game with as much enthusiasm as ever.
“I’m just happy and enjoying every day training here with the guys and being around here,” he said.
He said he’s happy to be back doing the same drills as his teammates, and said he hopes – at almost 28 – that he can become a veteran leader for a young group of center backs.
And for Berhalter, seeing Sauro back on the field came with a moment of pride.
“That’s one of the rewards, as a coach,” he said. “You come back and you see Gaston and how much progress he’s made and he’s out there with the guys and pushing the guys. Any time a player has an injury like that, you’re just hoping he’s going to make it back. When he does, it’s a joy.”
Neither Berhalter nor Sauro are willing to put a date on the center back’s return, and neither are in a rush. Berhalter said his return will be a “bonus” to the team, and Sauro said he’s staying patient.
“I would like to play every game, but we know that was a long process for me and I didn’t play for a while,” he said. “Now I’m going day-by-day. .... We don’t have goals for the short term. We expect that I can play during the season. If I’m not doing well the first week, we don’t care. It’s just thinking about having a good year.”