COLUMBUS, Ohio – When goalkeeper Matt Lampson was going through his life-and-death struggle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2007, his chances of surviving – much less someday playing pro soccer – were not good.
He was diagnosed with Stage 4 of the disease – the worst type – which kills more than 1,300 people in the United States annually, according to the American Cancer Society.
After months of chemotherapy, Lampson was cleared to resume playing and attended the inaugural Columbus Crew Soccer Academy tryout that fall.
“He couldn’t get through the warm-up, literally could not get through two minutes” said Andrew Arthurs, the team’s senior vice president of business development and executive director of Crew Juniors youth club.
Over the next few months, Lampson endured several rounds radiation to destroy the final cancerous nodes and he gradually improved to the point where he helped the Crew finish third at the Development Academy National Finals in 2008.
From there, Lampson, now 22, spent one redshirt season at Northern Illinois but returned to his hometown to play the past three seasons at Ohio State. On Thursday, he signed a Home Grown Player contract with the Crew.
Despite his brush with death, he had no doubt this day would come.
“It’s like any kid playing soccer; we all have the dream to play pro soccer," Lampson told MLSsoccer.com on Thursday. "But after that experience that I had, there was nothing that was going to stop me from achieving it. The drive that I have now from the experience, that’s what’s gotten me to this point. If anything, it helped me be a better person.”
Arthurs said the 6-foot-3, 190-pound goalkeeper has all the physical and technical attributes to be successful like other ‘keepers, but that "his determination and the will to overcome things" sets him apart, something with which Lampson agrees.
“I value life much more – not to say other people don’t – just because I’ve gotten the look at some things most people only see once in their lives and it’s at the end of their lives,” Lampson said. “I value so much what I have and want to do the most with it. That’s what I want more than anything. That and what I accomplish with my second chance at life to be really what defines me, not necessarily defeating [the disease] in the first place.”
Lampson grew up in the Columbus suburb of Hilliard and attended St. Charles Preparatory while being a constant at Crew games. It’s surreal for him to know the players he used to watch are now running the team, but that didn’t stop the affable youngster from having some fun.
“I remember seeing [technical director] Brian Bliss when he was actually playing – he was still bald, but he was still playing,” Lampson cracked. “Robert [Warzycha] was playing as well. [Assistant coach] Ricardo Iribarren? He was a little lighter back then, but they all could play and they’re now my coaches.”
In a more serious moment, Lampson said he hopes his visibility with the Crew can help him raise money and awareness about cancer, especially blood cancers.
He then reverted to form to get his point across.
“I’ll say I had lymphoma and they say, ‘Is that a good dinner’,” Lampson said. “I go, ‘No, that’s not a meal.’ Hopefully, I can do what I can with the platform I now have to get support for the causes that are important to me.”