FRISCO, Texas - FC Dallas goaltender Jeff Cassar, who has been injured since Aug. 27, 2005, when he separated the acromioclavicular (AC) joint in his right shoulder against Chivas USA, is now nearly ready to make his return for the Hoops.
The road back has been long for the veteran netminder, but Cassar knows his recovery is almost over. It got even longer this preseason when, after fully recovering from the shoulder injury, he suffered what was believed to be a hernia. That was later found to be arthritis in his right hip, and since that diagnosis Cassar has been steadily working his way back.
"It (my recovery) is going well," he said. "I'm starting to feel like I'm getting close to being 100 percent."
Head coach Colin Clarke agrees.
"I think he's progressing very well," he said. "He'll be ready to go this weekend (against D.C. United). Obviously, involving him this past weekend (against Kansas City) was a little early. The last thing he needed to do was kick the ball and he's starting to ease into that. I would expect him to be ready for selection this weekend."
This year marks Cassar's 10th season in MLS, six of those being in Dallas. His first stint was in the club's first two seasons, 1996 and 1997. After spending the next four seasons in Miami, he returned to Dallas in 2003 after they chose him in the 2002 MLS Dispersal Draft, which came following the Fusion ceasing operations at the end of the 2001 season.
Cassar played seven games for Dallas in 2003, starting six with two shutouts. Then, in 2004, he started in 19 matches, including 18 straight between mid-June and late September with four clean sheets and allowing an average of 1.49 goals per game. He even earned MLS Player of the Week honors after shutting out Columbus.
Last season, things were going well for Cassar as he was in the midst of starting four consecutive contests when he suffered his shoulder injury last August. He had previously missed all of the 1997 campaign because of a torn medial collateral ligament in his left elbow, part of 1998 because of a partially-torn ligament in his left knee and most of 2000 for unspecified injuries.
Even though being injured is nothing new, Cassar has still found a way to look at the whole situation in a positive manner.
"It (being injured) is real tough, but it's life," he said. "It's not like I'm sitting out because of a scratch. Every time I've had an injury, it's been an ACL or a shoulder separation where bones are popping out."
Cassar knew his latest injury was something that couldn't wait.
"This (my shoulder injury) is one that had to be taken care of," he said. "We tried to go about it the right way so that when I come back, it doesn't happen again. All you can do is come in, work hard and just get yourself ready for selection."
In his second stint with FC Dallas, Cassar is now with his third different head coach but likes the current atmosphere with the club.
"Every coach has their different ways of coaching," he said. "The thing with Colin (Clarke) is that he's trying to stress that we have a family here. We help each other out when people are down.
"It's just a great atmosphere to come into work," he said. "It's a fun time. They always keep it upbeat. It's never monotonous. We do a lot of team functions together. The front office is doing a fantastic job. Things like (the recent team bowling function) make you want to play for this team."
What has kept him going through all these injuries?
"I love everything about this game, my teammates, coming to work, competing, traveling and meeting people," he said. "On top of that, when I go home I can pick up my daughter from school. That's really important to me that there's time to do other things during the day."
Cassar also already has some idea about his plans after his playing career is over.
"When I'm done playing, I want to coach," he said. "This (soccer) is what I do, this is what I love to do."
Once he returns, Cassar will be the team's No. 2 goalkeeper behind current starter Dario Sala. Raymond Burse, Jr., the team's third-round selection in the 2006 MLS SuperDraft, who had been Sala's backup in Cassar's absence, will now be the third-choice.
Steve Hunt is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.