PORTLAND, Ore. – Perhaps it was foreshadowing, a hint of what was to come ahead of a season in which nearly everything went wrong for the Portland Timbers.
José Valencia, the prodigious talent from Colombia signed as the club’s first Young Designated Player, just wasn’t right in his very first training session with the team in late January. The team’s medical staff soon discovered there was damaged cartilage in his left knee. It meant surgery and a lost season.
Now, more than nine months later, Valencia has returned to training with the team and has 20 minutes under his belt in a Reserve League game last month. He’s certainly not back yet, but that date is inching closer and closer.
“I’m very happy to be back with my teammates and just being able to play soccer,” Valencia told MLSsoccer.com on Thursday through a translator. “To me, [the injury is] a thing of the past, and we’re just now looking forward to the future and looking forward to 2013.”
Valencia, 20, regarded as one of his country’s top young players, was acquired by the Timbers last December, underwent surgery on Feb. 6 and remained in Portland to go through rehabilitation. Looking back, he said he was shocked when his injury was discovered and admitted he had to battle through some very challenging times away from the pitch.
“It was very frustrating obviously for me because I had a lot of dreams and goals,” he said. “I wanted to come here and make a difference for the team, make a difference in this league. And everything just dropped down completely. But, you know, God has a plan, and I think that has helped me to be just a little stronger mentally. And I think it’s going to help me overcome anything that comes to me in the future.”
And as his teammates suffered through an equally disappointing season on the pitch, there was another setback for Valencia when he was arrested July 30 for resisting arrest and interfering with a police officer. The case is moving through Beaverton Municipal Court after a pretrial conference was held Oct. 3.
“There’s not much to say there,” Valencia said. “It is a work in progress. But my main focus is on playing soccer and just looking toward the future.”
Valencia said the close-knit support group provided by the Timbers and his family and friends helped him persevere through the challenges of the past year. He began working out with the team in August and appeared in the 70th minute of Portland's Reserve League match Sept. 16 against Seattle.
He said playing in an actual match was not only rewarding for him but for everyone who put in work dedicated to his recovery.
“It was very important because I think it was a reward to the team that worked with me during this recovery time for the last six, seven months,” he said. “I think it was just that, just a reward for the hard work that we put into it. And just to be able to go out there shows that we worked well and the recovery process was successful.”
Valencia isn’t expected to see time with the first team as they play out their final two games. His sights, much like everyone else associated with the Timbers, are on the future.
“I’m just looking forward to next year,” he said.
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.